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12 Ways Obama Smacked Down the Tea Party and the Right in Inauguration Speech

Reclaiming the language of patriotism, Obama then threw it back in the faces of right-wing Republicans to advance a liberal agenda.

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10. Asserting the moral imperative of gay rights. Although the right has succeeded in suppressing the rights of women and people of color, it’s widely acknowledged that in this regard, the right is on the wrong side of history. So when, in a line of great rhetorical flourish, Obama equated a famous gay rebellion against New York City police at a Greenwich Village bar with an iconic civil rights march and a catalyzing moment in the quest for women’s suffrage, he essentially said to his opponents: Your campaign against LGBT people is immoral. Here’s the line from the second inaugural address that’s destined for immortality:

We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and 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. 

Alas, transgender people, it seems, will continue to wait for their day.

11. Calling for equal pay for women. I know -- not very controversial, right? Well, if you’re a right-winger, it’s a stick in the eye. Remember the Lilly Ledbetter Act, the first piece of legislation signed by President Obama? That’s the law that lifted a statute of limitations on bringing suit against an employer who was found to have evaded fair pay laws. The Tea Party had only begun to coalesce at the point, but Republicans were already sufficiently anti-woman to vote against it. In fact, only eight Republicans voted for it. Here’s Obama’s call, from the inaugural speech:

[O]ur journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts.

12. Shining a light on voter suppression. Among the many ugly things for which the 2012 election campaigns will be remembered, foremost among them is the bald-faced attempts by Republican officials to suppress and subvert the votes of Democrats -- particularly, the votes of African Americans, Latinos and young people.

In his victory speech on November 7, Obama spoke specifically to that problem, saying it needed fixing. Today, in his high-minded inaugural address, the president raised the issue once again, saying:

Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote.

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It was a great speech. But rhetoric is easy, especially for a president so gifted in the art of oratory. Left on the table are questions, such as: What do you mean when you say you want to “save” Social Security? Or “reform” education? Or end the wars in which our nation has been mired for so long?

For all that the president had to say to the Tea Party and its allies in Congress and in the states,  perhaps the most important thing is what he said to the rest of us. It amounted to a tacit reference to the (possibly apocryphal) story about Franklin D. Roosevelt, when he told civil rights and labor leader A. Phillip Randolph, who wanted him to do something controversial: “Make me do it.”

What Obama said to progressives was this:

You and I, as citizens, have the power to set this country’s course.

You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time – not only with the votes we cast, but with the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideals.

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