Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

Obama reprises the dream

  • Print

WASHINGTON — In 2009, Barack Obama’s inauguration was a civil rights turning point. In his 2013 inaugural address, he sang the song of America’s civil rights progress. He talked about how the growing support for the rights of women, African-Americans and gays affirmed the essential promise in the Declaration of Independence. At a time when Washington seems so tiny you could fit it into your pocket, he asked everyone to look up from their Twitter feed to see how much had changed around them.

The president was nodding to the coalition that elected him and that he represented, sewing it more fully into the American story. (He’s not the only sign of change. The new Congress has 20 women senators, a record.) In his first inaugural address, the president cited familiar turning points in American history: "Concord, Gettysburg, Normandy and Khe Sahn." This time, the historical heroes were straight from his electoral coalition. He named the crucible moments in women’s rights, gay rights, and African-American rights: "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."

The president framed these advancements as a natural extension of the American experiment. Then he pivoted — grafting his agenda on to that progress. He committed himself to climate change, immigration, gun control and a budget in which the middle class was protected. He framed each policy challenge though, not as some abstract issue, but in the framework of advancing rights for those who do not yet have a full chance at the American dream:

"It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began. For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. 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. Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote. Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity, until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country. 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."

Before the speech, an Obama adviser said to me, "He won’t say, "I won, but... ,"his voice trailing off. In other words, the president would all but say that.

If you were listening during the campaign, the themes in the president’s second inaugural address sounded familiar. What Republicans heard was a tone poem from the president to growing government. If a Republican president had been speaking, there would have been paragraph after paragraph about tackling the deficit, the sapping evil of the federal government, and the danger the country’s mounting debt poses to personal liberty. Obama barely mentioned the deficit. When he did, it was to warn against excessive spending reductions. The president passed by the deficit on his way to making a larger point about government spending. Obama said, "We 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." This is familiar language he uses when dealing with Republicans — and they rightly hear it that way.

Thus, today was a preview of coming attractions. Expect the president to use his State of the Union, other big speeches and campaign organization to create outside pressure that will inspire Republicans to act. After Monday’s speech was over, the president sent a note to members of his political committee, now called Organizing for Action, thanking them and asking for their support in the months to come: "Now it’s time to finish what we started — let’s get going." The president’s second inauguration is what passes for unity these days; tomorrow the battles begin again.

 

Dickerson is Slate’s chief political correspondent. On Twitter: @jdickerson

 

— Slate

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Weather for final Fringing weekend

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Two Canadian geese perch themselves for a perfect view looking at the surroundings from the top of a railway bridge near Lombard Ave and Waterfront Drive in downtown Winnipeg- Standup photo- May 01, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS  070527 The 21st Annual Teddy Bears' Picnic at Assiniboine Park. The Orlan Ukrainian Dancers perform on stage.

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Should Winnipeg control growth to deal with climate change?

View Results

Ads by Google