Most inaugural addresses are not memorable. Second inaugural speeches are even less so. But President Obama’s second inaugural address is an exception. Only 18 minutes long, it will go down in history as one of the most powerful inaugural addresses ever.
As a proud liberal, I am often asked: What do liberals really stand for? Even some liberals have a hard time answering that question. But no longer. Read President Obama’s second inaugural address. And then read it again. For generations to come, his remarks on Jan. 21, 2013 will stand as “The Liberal Manifesto,” telling the world what liberals stand for and why.
What we believe as liberals, Obama noted, is rooted in the sacred words of the Declaration of Independence itself: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Liberals not only believe those words, said Obama, their special mission is to make them real for all Americans: rich and poor, young and old, male and female, gay and straight, no matter the color of your skin or the faith you practice.
Nobody has ever better expressed our purpose as Americans, and as liberals, than Obama did, right at the beginning of his speech, in two powerful sentences: “Today we continue a never-ending journey to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time. For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they have never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by his people here on earth.”
In the Constitution, our Founding Fathers embraced the duty to secure “the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” Now it’s up to us — “we, the people” — to help complete the task of delivering that promise of liberty and equal rights to all Americans. But Obama didn’t settle for stating our mission in general. He translated it into specific challenges on some of the most important issues facing us today.
If you really believe in the Constitution, said Obama, you could never live with the obscene level of income inequality in America today. “For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it.”
If you really believe in the Constitution, you understand why it’s especially important to help the disadvantaged, those poor and middle-class Americans who have not yet achieved the American dream. “We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else, because she is an American.”
If you really believe in the Constitution, you don’t resent extending a helping hand to those not as lucky as you are. “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…”
If you really believe in the Constitution, you can’t ignore the threat to our economy from global warming. “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.”
Then, in perhaps the most powerful part of his inaugural address, President Obama asserted that if you really believe in the Constitution, you would never question full equality for the LGBT community. It’s an unbroken line from Selma to Seneca Falls to Stonewall. “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.”
And in meeting all those challenges, Obama reminded us, government plays an essential role. “Preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action.” Of course, personal initiative is important, but the challenges are too great for any one man or woman. “Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation and one people.” With that affirmation of the necessary, proper role of government, President Obama ended the Age of Reagan and began the Age of Obama.
Conservatives may give lip service to the Constitution. But, in his second inaugural, President Obama proved that liberals are the true defenders of the Constitution. He made me proud to be a liberal.