Of 'Collective Action' and 'Hope and Resolve': Term No. 2 Begins
Even though his campaign veered from the first-term hope-and-change mantra, President Obama ushered in his second term by declaring today the National Day of Hope and Resolve.
"Four years ago, the American people came together to chart a new course through an uncertain hour. We chose hope over fear and hard work during hardship, confident that the age-old values that had guided our Nation through even its darkest days would be sufficient to meet the trials of our time," states the proclamation.
"I call upon all Americans to join together in courage, in compassion, and in purpose to more fully realize the eternal promises of our founding and the more perfect Union that must remain ever within our reach."
One of the more campaign-style presidential proclamations, it touts ending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, claims that the U.S. economy has been saved from collapse, and stresses "that America's greatest strength lies not in might or wealth, but in the bonds we share with one another."
Obama's speech after taking the oath of office consisted of much of the same soaring rhetoric -- peppered with policy bits that seemed to mark a president feeling freer to speak after his re-election.
"Together, we determined that a modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce, schools and colleges to train our workers," said the president, long a supporter of increased infrastructure spending. "Together, we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play."
He urged new technology to "remake our government, revamp our tax code, reform our schools, and empower our citizens" and defended entitlement programs. "They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great," he said.
Obama promised to respond "to the threat of climate change" with a "long and sometimes difficult" path to sustainable energy. "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," he said.
He lauded the American revolutionaries as "those who won the peace and not just the war" and "turned sworn enemies into the surest of friends" -- a good summation of where he tried to go with his first-term foreign policy, including reestablishing ties with a Syrian dictatorship that would violently turn on its own people and promising authoritarian Russian President Vladimir Putin more "flexibility" in term No. 2.
"We will defend our people and uphold our values through strength of arms and rule of law. We will show the courage to try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully –- not because we are naïve about the dangers we face, but because engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear," Obama said.
He delivered lines promoting equal pay, gay rights, voting rights, and the DREAM Act.
And he dropped a plug for gun control. "Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia, to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for and cherished and always safe from harm," the president said.
"Being true to our founding documents does not require us to agree on every contour of life. It does not mean we all define liberty in exactly the same way or follow the same precise path to happiness. 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," he added.
The core theme of Obama's message, though, could be summed up in his call to "collective action."
"We have always understood that when times change, so must we; that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action. For the American people can no more meet the demands of today’s world by acting alone than American soldiers could have met the forces of fascism or communism with muskets and militias," he said.
"No single person can train all the math and science teachers we’ll need to equip our children for the future, or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores. Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation and one people. …We, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it."
Obama and Vice President Joe Biden officially took their oaths yesterday. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor again led Biden in the oath today, and Chief Justice John Roberts swore in Obama.
Before the balls begin today, Obama and Biden partied last night at an inaugural reception with a performance by Stevie Wonder.
"He’s just getting started," Biden promised of his boss. "In the weeks and months ahead, we’re going to reduce gun violence here in America. We’re going to pass comprehensive immigration reform. And we’re going to put this nation’s economy on a sustainable path to the future."
Obama acknowledged that many questioned his choice of Biden as his No. 2, but said "one decision I know was absolutely correct, absolutely spot on, was my choice of vice president."
"All of you here understood and were committed to the basic notion that when we put our shoulders to the wheel of history, it moves," Obama said. "It moves. It moves forward."
The morning began at St. John's Episcopal Church, where during the service a message was posted on Obama's Twitter account with the initial signature indicating it was from the president and not his staff: "I'm honored and grateful that we have a chance to finish what we started. Our work begins today. Let's go. -bo"
The Republican attendees on the steps of the Capitol included lawmakers obliged to be there, such as House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Eric Cantor (R-Va.). House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who ran on the unsuccessful GOP ticket, also posted a congratulatory message on his Facebook account.
"The president and I were political opponents. We had strong disagreements over the direction of the country—as we still do now. But today, we put those disagreements aside. Today, we remember what we share in common," Ryan wrote. "…We may disagree on matters of policy. But today we remember why we take those matters so seriously—because we seek the public good. It’s our highest duty—one that we share—and one for which we’re grateful."
"I’m happy to mark this historic occasion—for the president and for the country. And I look forward to tackling the big challenges ahead," he added.
Ryan, though, was booed by many in the crowd when he appeared on the steps -- egged on, it seems, by a Department of Justice attorney, Dan Freeman, who wrote on his Facebook page that he "just started the crowd booing when Paul Ryan came out."
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) had a speaking role at the inauguration as vice-chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, introducing Sotomayor for the Biden swearing-in.
“The late Alex Haley, the author of Roots, lived his life by these six words: Find the good and praise it," Alexander said. “Today we praise the American tradition of transferring or reaffirming immense power as we inaugurate the president of the United States."
"We do this in a peaceful, orderly way," Alexander continued. "There is no mob, no coup, no insurrection. This is a moment when millions stop and watch. A moment most of us always will remember."
Other Republicans' inaugural messages, though, were more pithy or nonexistent: "Congratulations, Mr. President," tweeted Cantor. Boehner issued a message about Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but not about the inauguration as of this posting.
Some celebrated the day without mentioning the president by name. “Americans are truly privileged to live in a great nation, where we enjoy the freedom to democratically elect our leaders and to assemble freely as her leaders take office," said Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.). "This is a privilege we cannot take lightly; so many men and women throughout our history have fought bravely and given selflessly for this great nation. Though we face many challenges, today is a day to rise above conflict and party, to simply celebrate the honor to be an American and to enjoy the ceremonial events surrounding this momentous occasion envisioned by our founding fathers."
And yet others seized the opportunity to send a message of reformation to Obama.
"We can and must work together with simple reforms, smaller government, and protection of our freedoms to give America's middle class the opportunity to prosper and live free," said Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.).
"I congratulate President Obama for taking his second oath of office for the Presidency of the United States," said conservative Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa). "To 'preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States' is a promise not to be taken lightly, and one that may require refreshing.
"In Iowa we understand that each new harvest season brings new crops, and as the Bible teaches, to everything there is a season," King added. "With the presidential campaign behind us, a new season begins today. I encourage President Obama to look at this second term for new opportunities to uphold the rights enshrined in the Constitution, and to commit to representing the desires and dreams of the American people."