In Historic Inauguration Address, Obama Takes the Fight to the Right
Photo Credit: WhiteHouse.gov video
Before he uttered the first words of his second inaugural address on the national holiday that honors Martin Luther King, the nation’s first African American president made clear to his opponents on the right that he had a mandate, and he, Barack Hussein Obama, was done playing nice.
Offering the benediction was Myrlie Evers-Williams, widow of the slain civil rights leader, Medgar Evers. On the right, Medgar Evers is not celebrated as a hero. Now, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, servant of the Tea Party movement, was forced to bow his head in prayer as a living testament to the ravages of intolerance prevailed upon the Almighty to bless him.
Then came Obama’s first musical selection: The Battle Hymn of the Republic, which just happened to be the battle hymn of Union forces in the Civil War. Message to the right, which today is deeply rooted in the South: the Civil War is over, and your side lost.
And that was just the beginning of Obama’s assertion of his political capital, and his acknowledgment of the coalition that elected him: African Americans, Latinos, single women, and LGBT people -- pretty much everybody on whom the right makes economic and civic war.
To administer the oath of office to Vice President Joe Biden, the White House chose Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latin American to sit on the Supreme Court.
Commencing his remarks with the opening words of the Declaration of Independence, he reclaimed its high principles and powerful prose from the right, whose leaders like to cast Obama in the role of the tyrant referenced therein, the better to deem him worthy of overthrow. From the official text of the president’s address:
“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.
He went on to reference slavery, to assert the government’s historic role in building infrastructure and expressed a liberal’s vision of capitalism: “Together, we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play.”
Demolishing Right-Wing Tropes
Throughout his address, Obama took on the claims of the right and repudiated the right-wing agenda. Climate change, he said, was not only real:
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. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it.
He made the case that maintaining Social Security and Medicare was the moral duty of the nation, saying:
[W]e reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future.
He made his case for the DREAM Act, which would allow a path to citizenship for people brought to the U.S. by parents who are undocumented immigrants, and for comprehensive immigration reform.
And, in a single breath, he referenced one of the historic rebellions of the movement for LGBT rights, alongside the one of the iconic acts of defiance of the African American civil rights movement, and a catalytic moment in the fight for women’s suffrage:
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; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.
Martin Luther King rendered in the language of patriotism -- and in your face. Take that, Tea Party.