Progressivism’s future in America has new wind under its wings thanks to Barack Obama’s second inaugural address on Monday. Due to a couple of procedural quirks, he became the second president in history to be inaugurated four times, and it turns out the fourth time was the charm.
The President marked the beginning of his second term with meaningful words that had previously been lost over four years of failed attempts at post-partisan unity politics. While actions do speak louder than words, words definitely matter—especially when found in the inaugural address. The 19-minute speech carried the familiar lofty tone of Obama, but was supported by strong progressive content that should lend hope to any left-of-center voter not thrilled by Obama’s previous term.
The speech carried two components unprecedented in inaugural address history. Obama became the first president in history to support gay rights in a swearing-in ceremony, or even say the word “gay” for that matter.
“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.” These statements were truly historic for a president and a nation that have been slow in embracing equality for queer Americans.
Monday also marked the first time for a U.S. president to call for action on climate change in an inaugural address. “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.”
After a very disappointing first term and second campaign in regards to climate change, such a strong statement on the issue is an excellent sign for the environmental movement. This is the first indication since the failure of the cap-and-trade bill in the Senate in 2010 that Obama is willing to devote serious effort to addressing climate change.
Obama took on old issues with a new forcefulness as well. He mounted a defense of social safety net programs, saying that policies such as Medicaid and Social Security “[…] do not make us a nation of takers, [but] free us to take the risks that make this country great.” He embedded a need to address poverty and income inequality in terms of fundamental American values, relying heavily on words from the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution to frame his speech. Additionally, he did justice to topics of war, immigration, and the status of political rhetoric on the Capitol steps.
Obama expressed a clear vision of his political philosophy in a way that has not been done in an inaugural address since Reagan’s first, and rightly so. The time is ripe for our country to see real leadership, and Obama has a perfect opportunity to provide it.
While his 2012 margin of victory may have been smaller than in 2008, his mandate is greater. In 2008, the American people were voting against the party of Bush, but in 2012 they were voting for the party of Obama. He now has the opportunity to command the direction of Washington with the backing of a country that has grown tired of inaction and has approved a progressive compass bearing. Only time will tell how well Obama will put this opportunity to use, but this week he showed that he can lead America with a powerful progressive philosophy behind him.