President Obama took a place in history Monday as the second commander in chief to take the oath of office four times, and paused to gaze upon a massive crowd waving American flags to celebrate his second term. It was a moment in time, the punctuation mark following an inaugural address that was a forceful defense of the role of government in solving problems.
As Mr. Obama talked about peace, justice and joining together to reinvent the nation, there was debate about whether it was, indeed, a speech offering a liberal outline for governing. On the NewsHour, David Brooks dubbed it a “strong argument for modern liberalism” and said, “It was the most unapologetically liberal speech I’ve heard Barack Obama give.”
The general takeaway — among thinkers in Washington, at least — was that Mr. Obama had offered a true blueprint for why he believes in progressive values.
Consider the message as Mr. Obama talked about collective societal responsibility. “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 said.
It was the most he’d said about energy and the environment in months, going right at those who “may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science,” and calling on America to lead the response to the threat of climate change.
Among other statements stirring progressives were testaments to those who forged changed “through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall,”
Mr. Obama told a crowd estimated to be between 800,000 and 1 million:
And we must be a source of hope to the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the victims of prejudice — not out of mere charity, but because peace in our time requires the constant advance of those principles that our common creed describes: tolerance and opportunity, human dignity and justice.
The president said it is upon this generation to move the nation into the next stage of equality for all.
“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,” he said. “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 a land of opportunity 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 that they are cared for and cherished and always safe from harm.”
That was the lone mention of December’s mass shooting in Connecticut, which is expected to take up much of the focus in the beginning of his second term.
Mr. Obama professed that the nation “cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it,” that a “rising middle class” and chances of success are the most important American values. He touched only briefly on cutting costs and reducing the deficit.
Mr. Obama said helping others and supporting the poor strengthen the United States, and in a line that could well have been directed at the man he defeated to win re-election in November: “They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.”
He sought to assure critics that his own vision doesn’t mean “centuries’ long debates about the role of government” are settled for all time.
And in true Obama spirit, it had notes of hope as well:
This generation of Americans has been tested by crises that steeled our resolve and proved our resilience. 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.
Watch the full address here or below: