EVERY DEMOCRAT and progressive had to thoroughly enjoy the Inauguration of President Obama. It was a marvelous ceremony, and the star of the whole day was just as much First Lady Michelle Obama and her high fashion statement, as the President himself. As for President Obama’s Second Inaugural Address, it was a manifesto for what the Democratic Party is supposed to mean to people, what Barack Obama wants it to mean for America.
Unburdened from another campaign, President Obama was liberated to state his beliefs in why the Democratic Party is the political party he was charged to lead and what the task at hand is for his new coalition. For one president can only set the trajectory for the future and all his hopes for America. Not even Barack Obama can manifest all of what he dreams.
What Obama talked about in his Inaugural Address will have to live beyond his presidency through other people to come true.
Obama’s Inaugural Address was a statement about how he sees his more perfect union in his mind’s eye. However, as we’ve witnessed many times before, manifesting is not the message. The ultimate promise of what was mentioned is a generation’s task, not just one man’s mission.
There was, as many people have already noted, a nod to equality of peoples instead of liberty in the abstract, the first a progressive idea, the second a conservative one. It was a beautiful thing.
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; 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.
It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began. 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. 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 words, 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.
Then there was climate change, a monumentally important nod to a far off vision about what must be addressed. Perhaps climate hawk John Kerry, through the State Department, will give further meaning to what President Obama said in his Inaugural address.
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. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries – we must claim its promise. That is how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure – our forests and waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.
On entitlements, there is much talk that President Obama has drawn a line in the sand. The operative word being sand, as we all know what happens when a line is drawn there, especially when political winds start blowing.
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.
The words spoken do draw the clearest intentions for what America is to be, according to what President Obama believes the Democratic Party’s charge is for we the people. He recommits himself to F.D.R.’s entitlements and the importance of them to Americans. He rebuts the “takers” notion of Paul Ryan Republicanism, a scourge if every there was one. The directive of the new Obama coalition is clear and our 44th President stated it unequivocally.
But no one should think what President Obama said yesterday in any way takes entitlement cuts off the table. A commitment to honoring the safety net doesn’t mean entitlements won’t change.
President Obama laid his progressive heart on his sleeve, scaring conservatives in the process, which means progressives may have leverage and it’s likely they’ll be called to use it as a cudgel. If progressives decide to wage a strong fight and say no to Social Security cuts and to preserve Medicare and Medicaid as the entitlements they are meant to be, President Obama will be challenged to deliver fully on his Inaugural Address. Through his words he forewarned his supporters.
For now decisions are upon us, and we cannot afford delay. We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate. We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect. We must act, knowing that today’s victories will be only partial, and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years, and forty years, and four hundred years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall.
But remember what President Obama said way back in May 2007, that his real strength is bringing people together and finding common cause for compromise. There is no reason to think, regardless of where his heart is or the Democratic Party trajectory he’s set for the future, that dealing with Republicans won’t yield compromises either, including on entitlements. Those compromises will in no way deliver anything close to the gutting the GOP would do, with President Obama proving in his first term that he believes compromises provide all sides benefits, which is the point of the art of negotiating, in his mind.
The glow of America’s 44th President is still bright and for good reasons. It was a marvelous Inauguration, filled with every hope possible, with so many words said on such a brilliant Washington, D.C. day.
President Obama gave Democrats and progressives a lot to delight in throughout his speech, while making Republicans queasy, which will become even clearer very soon. But for Republicans, the game is lost. Obama has vanquished them, state mischief and antidemocratic actions are all they’ve got left.
Most of all, President Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address was his statement of what the Democratic Party means to him, what he believes is important in political advocacy, a declaration of who he is in his heart, but not necessarily what will be manifested. For this is but one term in one presidency, however historic, the rest laid out for others who come next. Stating plainly what the Democratic Party is meant to mean to the American people, laid out by a man who has won a place in history that no one can take away, progressives and those of you who want him to succeed must now help him to live up to his own ideals.
It won’t be easy to keep compromise at bay, because of what President Obama has settled for in his first term and also because of who he is, regardless of the vision he set in his Second Inaugural Address for the future of the Democratic Party and the generation that takes over after he and OFA are long gone.
“…the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.” – Senator Edward M. Kennedy
President Obama could not have been clearer. Much will be accomplished in the days and weeks ahead, but much will still be left to do.