Commentary: Obama’s Inaugural Speech, a Vivid View of “We the People”

The president’s second inaugural address presented a historic, 21st-century vision of America.

Posted: 01/21/2013 06:52 PM EST
Barack Obama, inauguration

As inaugural speeches go, Barack Obama’s brilliant address was as stunning and riveting as it was historic and groundbreaking.

Four years ago, Obama offered soaring oratory to address the need to emerge from a feeble economy. This time, the president used his second swearing-in ceremony as a bold oration of progressive values, with a highly contemporary interpretation of the anthem of the United States Constitution:  “We the People.”

The “people” whom the president championed — as well as the priorities he indicated would best serve them — were presented in a spectacular portrayal of 21st-century America. It addressed the country as it exists: a nation of diverse ethnicities, economic means, age groups and even sexual orientation.

Yet, it was an invitation, a plea really, for Americans to see each other for their commonality in the midst of their differences. "We, the people, still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity," Obama said, using an opening phrase he repeated a half-dozen times.

The president’s speech broke some historic barriers. He spoke of the need for Americans to practice a compassionate immigration policy. He spoke boldly of the need to address the haunting problem of climate change, presenting the issue in a way that even its detractors could not ignore.

“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 president said.

This year’s inauguration cast Obama as a man with a vision of the United States that takes into account the true diversity of the country. At the same time he presented a realistic reflection on the struggles of the past that allowed America to make progress in overcoming stifling barriers.

“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.

It was a dazzling homage not only to events that shaped the historic movements for women’s rights, the civil rights for African-Americans and also gay rights. It was a celebration — by the nation’s first African-American president on Martin Luther King Jr. Day — of a nation that had overcome so much.

In fact, Obama delivered the first inaugural speech in American history where the rights of gay Americans were unflinchingly advocated. “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.

He also stepped forcefully on the topic of voting fairness, taking to task the parties responsible for the horror of voters who has to wait hours to cast ballots last November.

In the coming days, the president will deal with a hostile House of Representatives as he seeks to take on a tough list of issues whose success in getting through Congress is far from assured.

Still, if nothing else, the nation knows well the convictions and principles of the man presenting that agenda with a new and refreshing and inspiring clarity.

 

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