“When times change, so must we.”
So they have. And so has our President.
President Obama’s second inaugural address echoed the shifts in the political climate as well as a noticeable transition in both his governing style and his perspective on how to navigate treacherous Congressional waters.
One could sum up his address in two words; union and division. Both are accurate and his words echoed the two sentiments in subtle ways. Those on the right have already lashed out, calling the speech combative, partisan and divisive; while Democrats have already lauded the address as a masterpiece that celebrated the bringing together of ALL Americans.
Together. Obama used that word seven times as he outlined his plan for the next four years. “We are made for this moment, and we will seize it — so long as we seize it together.”
WATCH “Highlights of Obama’s speech in two minutes” (story continues below the video):
This was a call for national unity. But it was NOT a call for bipartisanship. Sullied and scarred by four years of unparalleled Republican recalcitrance, Obama spoke yesterday through the learned lens of a child who no longer believes in fairy tales like bipartisan Congressional cooperation. He now knows better. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) vowed at the start of Obama’s first term that his “number one goal was to make sure that Barack Obama is a one term president.” The GOP followed suit, resulting in four years of rampant dysfunction and obstructionism.
This time our President seems content and intent to go it alone. His refusal to negotiate over the raising of the debt ceiling this time around seems to have paid off, with Republican leaders already vowing to raise it without debate. Obama signaled that he will not be held hostage by House Republicans over government spending either, stating that “…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.”
This veiled pledge to keep both Social Security and Medicare in place was a slap in the face to Republicans intent on gutting, or at the very least, drastically restructuring these two very popular programs. But in comments peppered with our nation’s moral obligation to take care of its helpless, these slaps were comfortably wrapped in compassion and the air of paternal leadership.
Obama elaborated on the necessity of these programs, claiming that, “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.”
The latter portion of the sentiment was a clever twist on Romney’s bootlegged statements regarding the 47% of Americans he felt did not “take responsibility for their lives,” and his running mate’s (the tool known as Paul Ryan) claim that, “we’re going to a majority of takers versus makers in America.” As the President stood at the podium, his hair salt and peppered, his daughters behind him, four years older, this was a very different Barack Obama.
Four years removed from his first inaugural, he was less poetic but more poignant. He quoted Martin Luther King Jr. and even seemed to channel him the first time around, but this time he was not the cult messiah that had stormed American politics with his soaring oratory and vows to transcend the quagmire of our broken system. He was simply a proven leader with the air of a man who had taken licks, learned lessons, bounced back and now understands the rules of the game that will play out over the next four years. And the rules for Obama have changed.
He will not change the minds of a Republican House governed by Tea Party ideology with silly tactics like logic and common sense. His quips about mistaking absolutism for principal and name-calling not being a substitution for debate were justified jabs at this GOP faction that has resulted in a more uncompromising Congress than any other in recent memory.
Obama’s frequent calls for togetherness may also be interpreted as an insinuation that the Government is the adhesive that holds this togetherness in place. And the bigger and stronger the glue, the greater the possibilities this togetherness will yield. This address was a celebration of the size of the government he has and will continue to call for. A government, he reminded us, for “Our time”, not ‘all time.’
“We will respond to climate change,” he vowed in what will hopefully rectify a gaping hole in his domestic resume. He followed this up with a not-so-subtle jab at the GOP’s aversion to facts, saying, “Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science.”
Climate change legislation will undoubtedly take a backseat to other issues presently on the agenda but the President once again reminded Americans that there is a problem and that the Democratic Party is the only one acknowledging the need to solve it.
His drawings of party distinctions were numerous. He made a delicate reference to gun reform, claiming that our journey is not complete until “…our children know they are cared for, cherished and always safe from harm. That is our generation’s task.” This could easily be interpreted as Obama’s call to arms or perhaps more accurately, his call to ‘disarm.’
“Enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war.” This was not only a modest personal departure for a President who, four years ago, adamantly pledged to “outlast and defeat” our enemies, it was also an ideological distinction. His pragmatic and cautious approach to international diplomacy is both a marked departure from those of his predecessor and one standing in stark contrast to those held by the hawkish members of the right wing.
But the largest distinctions he drew between the two parties may very well be the legacy he leaves, and appropriately enough, they brightly illuminated themselves on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Together. That word rang through Obama’s call to create a country in which we all thrive, not just the wealthy few. It rang through his calls for our nation’s women to enjoy equal pay as well as his calls to provide citizenship for immigrants who crave it.
Lastly, the very notion of togetherness rang out when he claimed “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.”
This statement was a celebration of civil rights that all Americans can participate in. Male, female, rich, poor, gay, straight, black, white, Latino. ALL Americans. Together.
Obama claimed that “You and I as citizens” have the power to shape the debate, to set this country’s course, to change the conversation. Whether it is gun control, immigration reform or climate control, WE as citizens have a right to plot that course, to elect the leaders we want to propel us on that course and to see to it that they lead us on that course.
It’s on us. It is on us to lead this country onto a better trajectory.
We at Veracity Stew have been trying to, in our own little way, to nudge us along that path. With every blog, Tweet and Facebook post, we are trying to shape the conversation. And like Obama, we will continue to do so over the course of the next four years…or as long as it takes.