US President Barack Obama addresses the audience after taking the oath of office during the 57th Presidential Inauguration ceremonial swearing-in at the US Capitol on January 21, 2013 in Washington, DC. US Chief Justice John Roberts administered the oath. AFP PHOTO/Jewel SamadJEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
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Updated: February 23, 2013 6:16AM
In his first inaugural address four years ago, President Barack Obama sought to reassure Americans stunned by a tumbling economy and weary of drawn-out wars.
On Monday, in his second inaugural address, a more tough-minded Obama set a more pointed tone, citing the nation’s founding ideals as the basis for a clearly progressive agenda for his next four years. His aim, he said, is “to bridge the meaning” of the Founding Fathers’ words “with the realities of our time.”
Obama called for supporting transportation infrastructure and education; rules for fair play in the free market and care for the vulnerable.
Blazing new ground for an inaugural speech, he likened New York’s 1969 Stonewall gay-rights riots to the 1965 Selma, Ala., civil rights marches and the 1848 Seneca Falls women’s rights convention: “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law,” he said.
On Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, all matters of fierce partisan debates, he said: “They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.”
Many expected Obama would give an inspirational address, heavy on flag-waving imagery and exhortations for finding common ground and bipartisanship. But while there was, indeed, much of that, this was a more battle-hardened Obama, one who took the opportunity to make clear he has an agenda identified more with Democratic Party priorities — and that he will fight for it.
This was a welcome change. This was a president who has learned that fine words, good intentions and patriotic exhortations to work together, whether red state or blue state, will never be enough.
The president agreed that Americans are rightfully wary of too much centralization of government, but he argued that the federal government has an important role to play in building the nation’s infrastructure, such as roads, in promoting quality schools and colleges, in regulating the market to ensure fair play, and to protect people “from life’s worst hazards and afflictions.”
He decried our nation’s growing inequality of wealth, saying, “Our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it. . . . We do not believe that in this country, freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few.”
As for climate change, a joke of an issue for too many Republicans, Obama urged government help for finding sustainable energy sources, saying, “Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought.” Failure to address it, he said, “would betray our children and future generations.”
The president said little about immigration reform and didn’t say a word about his recent call for new gun laws, nor did he mention the recent deaths of three Americans in Algeria at the hands of Islamist militants.
Four years ago, Obama talked of “our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age.”
This time around, Obama sounded more like a man dead set on getting the big jobs done.