By Roger Simon
A lot less gloomy, a little more combative and much more impatient than four years ago, President Barack Obama used his second inaugural address on Monday to urge action on a nation in the grips of inertia.
“Progress does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time,” he said, “but it does require us to act in our time.”
Translation: Listen up, Congress. I’ve got four years left, and we’re going to do things for this country even if I have to make you kick and scream to do them.
“For now decisions are upon us, and we cannot afford delay,” the president said. “We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.”
It was a very careful speech. It had been worked on for months, with each word weighed. So it was no accident that Obama used the word “gay” but did not use the word “gun.” The latter has become more controversial than the former these days.
To Obama, a former professor of constitutional law, the speech had a historical framework. At the beginning of his speech, he invoked the most sacred words from the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
But this was more than just patriotic filler. It was a call to replace inaction with action. “For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they have never been self-executing,” Obama said. “While freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth.”
In other words, let’s get up and do some things.
Four years ago, Obama and the nation were near despair. “Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred,” he said back then. “Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age.”
Back then, he talked about lost homes and shuttered businesses, and then spoke of something even worse: “a sapping of confidence across our land – a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.”
This time, in this speech, the mood was different.
“A decade of war is now ending; an economic recovery has begun,” the president said on the west steps of the Capitol after taking his oath of office. “My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment, and we will seize it – so long as we seize it together.”
Togetherness was very much a theme of the speech. Hyper-partisanship has frozen the machinery of Congress, but the people working together can force a thaw.
And, showing some of the combativeness of his first inaugural address in which he rejected the political philosophies of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, Obama directly scorned the philosophy of Mitt Romney.
“We do not believe that in this country, freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few,” he said. “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.”
He spent little time on foreign policy, except to say that America would defend democracy across the globe. But there are limits. “We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war,” he said.
Then he swung back to America, delving into its past, praising the “pioneers” who had been at Seneca Falls (for women’s right in 1848), and Selma (for civil rights in 1965), and Stonewall (for gay rights in 1969).
“It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began,” he said, and then talked about how America’s journey was not complete until there were equal rights for women, for “our gay brothers and sisters,” for “hopeful immigrants” and “until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote.”
In coded language calling for gun control but carefully avoiding that term, he added: “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.”
He added with the same message that he had emphasized throughout his campaign: There are no guarantees, but at least we are all in this together.
“With common effort and common purpose, with passion and dedication,” he said, “let us answer the call of history, and carry into an uncertain future that precious light of freedom.”
Let’s just do it. Now!
To find out more about Roger Simon, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.
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