WASHINGTON – More than a million people gathered on the National Mall, Monday, to witness President Obama’s second inauguration. It was the second largest inauguration in U.S. history – the largest was Obama’s first in 2009 when 2 million people jammed the nation’s capital.
Looking out at a sea of humanity, Obama delivered what is widely being described as a progressive call to action based on the theme that the nation is stronger when people act together. “We have always understood,” the president declared, “that preserving our individual freedoms requires collective action.
“For the American people can no more meet the demands of today’s world by acting alone. No single person can train all the math and science teachers we’ll need to equip our children for the future, or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores. Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation and one people.”
The president gave a ringing endorsement to the majorities in poll after poll who have backed the nation’s social insurance programs. He delivered an undisguised slap at the “makers” versus “takers” language of Congressional Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
“We do not believe that in this country freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few,” Obama said. “We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us at any time may face a job loss, or a sudden illness, or a home swept away in a terrible storm. The commitments we make to each other through Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security, these things do not sap our initiative, they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.”
The president made it clear that he supports extending and deepening civil and human rights.
“For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts,” he said.
“Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.
“Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote.
“Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as the land of opportunity.
“Our journey is not complete until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country.
“Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia, to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know they are cared for, and cherished, and always safe from harm.”
An overarching theme of the president’s speech was that a progressive agenda actually fits in with and furthers the intent of the founding fathers.
He assailed the idea that there is no such thing as a good government regulation. “Together, we discovered,” the president said, “that the free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play.”
For the climate change deniers he had three short but equally powerful sentences: “Some may deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition, we must lead it.”
Obama did not call for a radical overhaul of foreign policy, which would move toward elimination of the huge military budgets and use of the saved money to meet domestic needs. He made no mention of ending the use of drones, which people around the world have spoken out against in the face of growing civilian casualties.
He did, however, contradict the neoconservatives and backers of the old Bush doctrine. Rather than just offer the usual platitudes presidents have uttered about wanting “peace,” Obama declared forcefully that national security and lasting peace do not require, as he put it, “perpetual war.”
“We must,” the president said, have “the courage to try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully – not because we are naïve about the dangers we face, but because engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear.”
The president notably refrained from any mention of Iran and Israel. Republicans have, for more than a year now, stepped up their rhetoric against Iran and have claimed, despite growing peace sentiment in Israel, that their support for military action against Iran is aimed at “protecting” Israel.
Photo: President Barack Obama speaks during the ceremonial swearing-in at the U.S. Capitol during the 57th Presidential Inauguration in Washington, Jan. 21, 2013. Susan Walsh/AP