by Randolph T. Holhut
Chief of AR Correspondents
January 24, 2013
CAN PRESIDENT OBAMA LIVE UP TO THE IDEALS IN HIS SECOND INAUGURAL ADDRESS?
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Sure, there wasn't as much euphoria as there was four years ago. How could there be?
However, the second inaugural of President Barack Obama was arguably even more historic than the first one.
The weight of history was unavoidable. The first African-American to be elected twice to the presidency. The only other Democrat besides Bill Clinton to win two terms as President since Franklin D. Roosevelt. And all of this happening on Martin Luther King, Jr,. Day.
And, as he usually does, President Obama responded with a speech that fit the moment.
After four years of vicious pounding by the various crazed elements that have seized the Republican Party, there he stood. The victor. The President of all the people.
Mr. Obama had every right to tell the Republicans to kiss his butt in the wake of a decisive victory not only for him, but for the principle of a progressive nation.
But he's a better orator than that. He used his Inaugural Address to remind people which principles a majority of our nation believe in.
"We, the people, still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity. We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit.
"But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future. For we remember the lessons of our past, when twilight years were spent in poverty and parents of a child with a disability had nowhere to turn.
"We do not believe that in this country freedom is reserved for the lucky or happiness for the few. 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."
After a presidential campaign that ignored the issue, President Obama made it clear what was needed to deal with the greatest crisis of our time.
"We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity.
"We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still 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."
And the President was just getting warmed up.
He was not just calling out the conservative movement for four decades of reactionary nonsense and its exaltation of private greed and public squalor. He was affirming the most important principle that needs affirmation right now - that government is not "them," it is all of us.
"Through blood drawn by lash and blood drawn by sword, we learned that no union founded on the principles of liberty and equality could survive half-slave and half-free. We made ourselves anew, and vowed to move forward together.
"Together, we determined that a modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce; schools and colleges to train our workers.
"Together, we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play.
"Together, we resolved that a great nation must care for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life's worst hazards and misfortune . we have always understood that when times change, so must we; that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action."
President Obama didn't have to be the first president to use the bully pulpit of an inauguration to stand up for gay rights. To his credit, he decided that standing on the right side of history was the better course to take.
"We the people declare today that the most evident of truth 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; 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."
With these words, he reminded people of something that the Rev. King once observed -- that the Declaration of Independence is but a "promissory note" that has yet to be redeemed in full.
"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 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 is our generation's task, to make these works, 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."
In short, President Obama delivered a speech that was a full-throated, unapologetic affirmation of the progressive principles our nation was founded upon. It will be a speech that will be referred to by future generations of Americans in the way that FDR's greatest speeches still resonate with the Democratic faithful.
But now that the pomp is over, and the bunting and scaffolding have come down, the hard work begins of making our President live up to the words he spoke.
The record of the first four years of the Obama Administration was a dismal one in many ways. Corporate power remains unchecked. Civil liberties are still being trampled upon. The military is still spending obscene amounts of our money to maintain an empire. And there's more concern about the deficit than there is about persistent poverty and an economy that no longer works for most Americans.
It would be nice to think President Obama's second inaugural address would be a progressive blueprint for the next four years. But that will only happen if we hold him, and the Democratic Party, to the ideas he so eloquently expressed.
Chief of AR Correspondents Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.