US President Barack Obama gives his inauguration speech at the US Capitol on January 21, 2013 in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/Emmanuel DunandEMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images
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Updated: February 23, 2013 6:38AM
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama’s inaugural address Monday saluted the ideals of liberalism and the minorities whose votes were critical to his winning a second term.
The speech, to sum up, was an ode to progressive politics in the United States. Never having to stand for election again has freed Obama, and it was the voice of that unencumbered Obama we heard.
“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,” Obama said, naming the battlegrounds of struggles for the civil rights of women, blacks and gays.
He was assertive in defending the expensive social safety net programs as essential elements of our civil society.
“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,” Obama 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.”
Obama’s own remarkable political journey — from an Illinois state senator to the White House in just four years — ends on Jan. 20, 2017.
But the collective journey, he said “ is not complete” until women get equal pay for equal work, gay Americans are treated “like anyone else under the law,” schemes to suppress the votes of minorities are reversed, young illegal immigrants in the U.S. get a chance to stay, and children are safe from violence.
At times during the first-term journey, progressives felt ignored and unloved as the Obama team took them for granted as they tried to woo congressional Republicans — only to find compromise rare to impossible.
With Congress gridlocked and unpopular, Obama, emboldened with a strong November win starts his second term very aware his legacy depends on removing these roadblocks.
Obama painted his picture of what compromise and common ground looks like to him in his speech:
“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.
“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,” he said.
What can Obama do different the second time around to get action? I discussed this with senior adviser Valerie Jarrett in an interview Monday.
It’s becoming clearer that a massive role awaits the newly launched Organizing for Action — the Obama campaign reformulated into a non-profit based in Chicago with offices in Washington. Jarrett’s key aide, Jon Carson, just left the White House and will move back to Chicago — to be the executive director of the group.
Obama has noted that in the beginning of the first term, Jarrett said, “he was so concerned with getting the policy right, we did not spend enough time engaging the American people in the process.”
Among the first-term lessons learned, Jarrett told me, is that Republicans compromised when “people got engaged and put pressure on Congress,” with Jarrett citing as a recent example Obama’s push to extend the Bush-era tax cuts.
The new OFA will be working to support the president’s agenda by generating that outside-in pressure — with some big assists.
The drive, said Jarrett, “will involve the president, it will involve the first lady with a goal to “engage the American people directly in making sure the president’s agenda which they support” gets done.
Said Jarrett, the “hope would be in the second term there is some momentum generated by the American people [so that] the Republicans in Congress would be more willing to engage with us.”