Obama signals more aggressive second term

Tue, Jan 22, 2013, 00:00

Much of the president’s speech was devoted to the rights of women, homosexuals and Hispanic immigrants

President Barack Obama signalled that he will be a more aggressive and politically progressive leader in his second term, by calling for gay marriage and speaking at length about climate change in his second inaugural address. Both issues are red flags to conservatives.

Much of Mr Obama’s speech was devoted to the rights of women, homosexuals and Hispanic immigrants, the disparate coalition whose vote was crucial to the president’s re-election. The shift was most marked concerning gay rights. Mr Obama had long said neither he nor the country were ready for same-sex marriage.

“Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law,” Mr Obama said.

“If we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”

Richard Blanco became the first homosexual and first Hispanic to speak as inaugural poet. The evangelical pastor withdrew from delivering the benediction, which he had been scheduled to do, because of protests over an anti-homosexual sermon he delivered 20 years ago.

Climate change

After promising to tackle climate change in his first inaugural address in 2009, Mr Obama largely neglected the issue as he was sucked into endless debates with Republicans over healthcare bill and fiscal issues. Yesterday he vowed: “We will respond to the threat of climate change.”

Referring to the Republicans, he noted that “some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science ... but America cannot resist this transition [to clean energy]; 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.”

Mr Obama’s address was shorter and more matter of fact than his first one, but it was also more assertive and positive about America’s chances. “We are made for this moment, and we will seize it – so long as we seize it together,” he said.

He placed his second inaugural address under the sign of two anniversaries of immense importance: the Civil War the Civil Rights movement, taking the oath of office on Bibles that belonged to Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King jnr. The ceremony coincided with a public holiday commemorating the life of Dr King, who was assassinated in 1968.

Following Lincoln’s example in the Gettsyburg address and King’s in his “I Have a Dream” speech, respectively 150 and 50 years ago this year, Mr Obama quoted the opening words of the declaration of independence, “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.” He devoted the rest of his speech to what he called the “never-ending journey to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our times”, arguing for greater equality of opportunity.

America’s prosperity

“Our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it,” he said. “We believe that America’s prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class.”

The Civil War and Civil Rights themes were woven through the ceremony. The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir sang the Battle Hymn of the Republic.

Mr Obama last week delivered a major, pre-inaugural address on gun control, the issue that has dominated US politics since 20 children and six adults were massacred on December 14th. He only alluded to it yesterday, saying, “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.”

Entitlement programmes

He directly challenged the Republican dogma that entitlement programmes must be slashed to reduce the deficit.

“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,” 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 made this country great.”

Referring to the bitter political battles of his first term, Mr Obama put Republicans on notice that he will not tolerate such behaviour in his second term. “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,” he said. “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.”