Obama calls for social progress at inauguration
Professors and students respond differently to president’s speech
Published: Tuesday, January 22, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, January 22, 2013 18:01
President Barack Obama was publicly sworn in for his second term on Monday. This year’s inaugural event was on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, carrying with it reminders of all the history behind the second Inauguration of the first African-American president.
The president’s speech, given just before noon in front of over 600,000 people on the west side of the Capitol, was a call to action. His speech discussed the importance of social progress by identifying them in human terms – emphasizing people over policy. Deemed by many as a defense of progressivism and American liberalism, Obama used Monday’s occasion as a moment for setting the agenda for his second term.
Many felt his confidence and self-assurance in leading the nation’s movement toward social progressivism was a contrast to his previous inaugural address, which forewarned a difficult economic period to come.
Distinguished political science professor James Campbell said the speech mainly appealed to the democratic base and lacked a focus on the economy that Campbell was expecting.
“It was a fairly partisan address,” Campbell said. “He calls for compromise and working together on these problems, but there seems to be an undercurrent meaning that the other side compromises.”
Campbell said while Obama calls for compromise, his speech suggested it’s the Republicans that need to make the compromises.
Obama began his speech demonstrating how his priorities for his second term are grounded in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
“We recall that what binds this nation together is not the colors of our skin or the tenets of our faith or the origins of our names,” Obama said. “What makes us exceptional, what makes us America, is our allegiance to an idea articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago. Today, we continue a never ending journey to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time.”
Using this framework, Obama laid out his agenda for his second term and incorporated a level of specificity on a number of issues that was largely unanticipated. He addressed supporting gay marriage, protecting entitlement programs, confronting income inequality and passing comprehensive legislation on immigration reform, climate change and gun control.
The president also articulated an agenda driven by a need for liberty and equality, as well as human rights.
Rayna Moncrieffe, a freshman business and accounting major, liked the detail Obama went into regarding social policies he wants to take on in his upcoming term.
“I like the ideas that he had about the social progress that he wanted to make, and he specifically talked about the rights of gays and gay marriage and how he felt about it,” Moncrieffe said. “I like the way he talked about our future and especially education and how he wanted to progress with that.”
Campbell felt Obama’s presentation of his upcoming term as a call to action for human progress is a derivative political technique often deployed by U.S. presidents.
“They understand that they have additional leverage for their positions if they claim the high ground as being above politics,” Campbell said.
Many of the initiatives Obama set forth in his speech, like the assaults weapon ban, immigration reform and climate control, will be very difficult to pass through the Republican-controlled House, according to Campbell.
Now it will be time for the country to see how far he can go in Washington with his hard-to-achieve agenda.
However, the president made it clear on Monday that he plans to accept the challenge of getting these policy initiatives accomplished with proclamations like, “the most evident of truths, that we are all created equal, is the star that guides us still,” and “we are made for this moment.”
Former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter attended Obama’s last inauguration, as past presidents usually attend the event if their health permits. Obama customarily has to attend the next Inaugural Ceremony in four years, as long as his health permits and barring unforeseen circumstances. Monday’s crowd represented the hopes and dreams Obama wants to accomplish over four years, and while he will stand on the stage again, the moment cannot be duplicated.
After the ceremony ended, the president made his way toward the inside of the Capitol and stopped himself just before crossing the threshold that leads inside the building, telling those next to him he wanted to “take a look one more time,” as he stopped and stood upright looking out at the crowd on the National Mall.
“I’m not going to see this again,” he said.
While Campbell criticized Obama’s speech as appealing solely to Democrats, students like Moncrieffe appreciated the president’s assurance in social progress moving forward.