The president’s tone was measured, but the agenda he detailed in today’s inauguration speech was surprisingly robust. The president suggested that his final term in office would be dedicated to shoring up the nation’s declining middle class, confronting climate change, pressing immigration reform and, most tantalizing, perhaps finding a way to end its “perpetual war.”
He even referenced gay marriage, connecting the effort to achieve equal rights for gay and lesbian people in the same breath with the struggle for women’s equality and the civil rights movement, apparently fully embracing a position that had given him political pause only a few years ago.
“We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths—that all of us are created equal—is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall,” the president said, “just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.
“It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began. For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. 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.”
President Obama suggested that more than a decade after 9/11 the time may finally be coming near for the nation to find a way to peacefully resolve its various military engagements. “We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war,” he said. “Our brave men and women in uniform, tempered by the flames of battle, are unmatched in skill and courage. Our citizens, seared by the memory of those we have lost, know too well the price that is paid for liberty. The knowledge of their sacrifice will keep us forever vigilant against those who would do us harm. But we are also heirs to those who won the peace and not just the war, who turned sworn enemies into the surest of friends, and we must carry those lessons into this time as well.”
The speech included an elegantly stated if not exactly subtle dig at some of his political adversaries, Washington gridlock and the degraded state of U.S. political discourse. "[It] is our generation’s task—to make these words, these rights, these values—of Life, and Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness—real for every American. Being true to our founding documents does not require us to agree on every contour of life; it does not mean we will all define liberty in exactly the same way, or follow the same precise path to happiness. Progress does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time—but it does require us to act in our time.
"For now decisions are upon us, and we cannot afford delay," he said. "We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate. We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect. We must act, knowing that today’s victories will be only partial, and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years, and forty years, and four hundred years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall."
President Obama referenced two centuries of cultural and political change in the United States, suggesting that the nation was directed on an unerring if sometimes disputed progressive path ahead and expressing an optimism that today’s America has the capacity to persist along that path, without abandoning the less fortunate or neeful among us along the way becaue "reedom is not "reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few.
“This generation of Americans has been tested by crises that steeled our resolve and proved our resilience," President Obama sad. "A decade of war is now ending. An economic recovery has begun. America’s possibilities are limitless, for we possess all the qualities that this world without boundaries demands: youth and drive; diversity and openness; an endless capacity for risk and a gift for reinvention. My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment, and we will seize it—so long as we seize it together.”