12 Ways Obama Smacked Down the Tea Party and the Right in Inauguration Speech
This article has been corrected.
With its elegant rendering of the liberal agenda before the eyes of the American people, President Barack Obama's second inaugural address was music to the ears of many a progressive. But to the ears of Tea Partiers and the Republican right, this inauguration speech, as well as the ceremony that surrounded it, was war -- not just a war of words, but a war of prayer, a war of poetry and even, perhaps, a war of song.
Driving the message home were the hands of the Fates, who conspired to see the second inauguration of the nation’s first African American president fall on Martin Luther King Day, the national holiday whose very creation was opposed by so many who still today comprise the Republican Party’s right wing.
Here we recount a dozen ways in which the president brought his fight to the right, in no uncertain terms, at his second inauguration.
1. Reminding the nation who won the Civil War. On the eve of Obama’s second inauguration, civil rights leader Julian Bond addressed a crowd of progressives gathered in Washington, D.C., at the Peace Ball convened by the activist restauranter Andy Shallal, Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!, and a host of progressive entities. Bond spelled out the statistics of Obama’s 2012 victory for the crowd, noting that Mitt Romney’s voters were almost entirely white, and that, of the 11 states that belonged to the old Confederacy, Romney won nine.*
“The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” the anthem of Union troops in the Civil War, long ago passed into the songbook of patriotic themes, and has been played during the inaugural parades of other presidents, sung on several different occasions by the very white Mormon Tabernacle Choir. But when the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, in all its multicultural glory, was tapped to sing the anthem not from a parade stand, but from the ceremonial podium, a different chord was struck, thanks to its context: the invocation that preceded it, and the president's speech, which followed it.
2. Reminding the nation of the history of the civil rights movement. The significance of the president’s first musical selection could easily be dismissed, had it not been for the fact of how it was bookended: on the front end, the invocation by Myrlie Evers-Williams, widow of the slain civil rights leader, Medgar Evers, and afterward by the president’s own speech, in which he acknowledged the nation’s history of slavery. From the invocation by Evers-Williams:
One hundred-fifty years after the Emancipation Proclamation and 50 years after the March on Washington, we celebrate the spirit of our ancestors, which has allowed us to move from a nation of unborn hopes and a history of disenfranchised votes, to today’s expression of a more perfect union.
Near the beginning of the president’s own address were these lines:
Through blood drawn by lash and blood drawn by sword, we learned that no union founded on the principles of liberty and equality could survive half-slave and half-free. We made ourselves anew, and vowed to move forward together.
3. Reclaiming the founding documents for liberalism. The president didn’t waste any time plucking the heartstrings of the Tea Party movement, citing both the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence in the opening paragraph of his inaugural address. It was from the latter that he got the most mileage, beginning with his recitation of the Declaration’s opening strains:
“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.”
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. The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few or the rule of a mob.