When Barack Obama delivered his first inaugural address four years ago, he faced dual challenges – stoking the idealism of a country that had just elected its first African-American president, while, at the same time, warning that dire times were ahead.
After all, when Obama became president, the economy was shedding thousands of jobs per month and the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq were ongoing. Osama bin Laden was still out there somewhere, perhaps biding his time before fomenting more destruction and harm on these shores.
A little over two months after he was re-elected with 51 percent of the vote – the first president since Dwight Eisenhower to pass over the 51 percent mark twice – Obama is presiding over a less anxious country than it was four years ago, even though there’s hardly a feeling that happy days are here again. Perhaps due to a feeling of greater security in the fortunes of both his country and his own political position, Obama delivered an inaugural address Monday that stressed unity and optimism and the possibility of better days ahead.
And while not quite declaring that the era of big government is back, Obama offered a strong rebuttal to those on the further reaches of the right who believe that any form of regulation is the first step on the road to tyranny and the federal government is only worthwhile if it is rubber-stamping outlays to the Pentagon.
“Together we determined that a modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce; schools and colleges to train our workers,” Obama said.
He continued, “Together, we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play...We resolved that a great nation must care for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.”
In a direct response to the Manichean “makers versus takers” formulation that some of his opponents have conjured, Obama proclaimed that “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.”
Obama also hopes to extend the same idealism abroad: “America will remain the anchor of strong alliances in every corner of the globe; and we will renew those institutions that extend our capacity to manage crisis abroad, for no one has a greater stake in a peaceful world than its most powerful nation.”
He continued, “We must be a source of hope to the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the victims of prejudice – not out of mere charity, but because peace in our time requires the constant advance of those principles that our common creed describes: tolerance and opportunity; human dignity and justice.”
Almost any Inauguration Day is like a wedding day, not only with its pomp, pageantry and rituals, but the promise that blue skies and never-ending sunshine lie ahead. Soon enough, the aspirations that Obama outlined in his second inaugural address will bump up against the hard political realities of an entrenched opposition and an economy not yet restored to full health. But Obama’s address offered a stirring reaffirmation of America’s principles and an auspicious road map for the second half of his presidency.