The enduring legacy and painstaking repetition of the world’s most powerful nation is perhaps no more evident than on the few days throughout our rich history when we inaugurate a president.
For decades, the commanding platform of the inaugural address and its accompanying festivities and fanfare has given a newly elected president the unique ability to craft the outline of a renewed national conversation for the years to come.
In his second inaugural address to the nation on Monday, President Barack Obama deviated from his usual bipartisan tone. Instead, he seized the opportunity of the world stage to articulate a very bold – and very liberal – case for America’s next four years under his watch.
The president channeled the conscience of his electorate as he centered his address on broad themes from the campaign that helped him reclaim the White House. He slammed the notion of freedom as a reserved liberty for just a small few. He reiterated his belief of taxing the wealthy more and strengthening the middle class. He grabbed additional headlines by a renewed focus on civil rights.
Obama’s rousing speech seemed, at times, combative – a clearly indicative sign that Obama knows his signature calls for unity in Washington are now a reality he will likely never see. This is the new Obama, vastly different from the centrist persona he tried to project during his first term, and he’s ready for a fight. He has set the stage for an aggressive push for his policies, obviously seeing the need to cement his legacy early while he has the political capital to do so.
But there’s no doubt Obama has had more influence than anyone else over the country’s progressive shift that saw him re-elected by a commanding margin, especially in regards to the ongoing struggle for equality among marginalized groups.
Alluding to historic catalysts for civil change, the president invoked the parallels of Seneca Falls, Selma and Stonewall to compare the social movements of women, racial minorities and LGBTQ Americans with our founding notion of universal equality.
Obama made history as the first president to mention gay rights in an inaugural address, his striking nonchalance only aiding in the perpetuation of normalization and cultural desensitization toward gay Americans that has become a pillar of his presidency.
With this legitimizing affirmation from the president, coupled with the significance of Richard Blanco as the first Hispanic and first openly gay poet to speak at an inauguration and Reverend Luis Leon’s powerfully inclusive benediction, it seems easy to predict just how accepting Obama plans to be in his second term.
But the legacy of this historic speech might not just be its heavy focus on civil rights or defense of big government ideology. The address was rhetorically brilliant in its composition, beseeching the remnants of an American spirit that is often forgotten in our modern self-centric culture.
Obama’s use of “we, the people” was dynamic, forcing the audience to constantly correlate success and growth in America through a collectivist lens. It was a clearer articulation of his infamous “you didn’t build that” comment that dogged him throughout the last part of the election cycle.
In this address, we got to see the real Obama – a determined leader, unconscious of electoral ramifications, who sees an avenue to make a lasting impact on the nation he has forever changed. He realizes what’s at stake in this moment and seems poised to fight to ensure we don’t squander an opportunity to become a better, more inclusive America.
This rallying call and challenge to the nation will live on as one of Obama’s most defining speeches, presenting clear criteria for the legacy of the Obama Doctrine. During the State of the Union, I hope we’ll see more specifics and a clear action plan as the administration faces loud opposition in Congress.
If Obama intends to claim his place in the reams of history as the liberal answer to Reagan conservatism, we must see concerted, meaningful action to push us forward.