Populist-leaning Speech And Unity Theme By Obama Foresees More Republican Intransigence

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Given the partisan politics and Republican intransigence that almost derailed Obama's major policy agenda and the bitterly contested 2012 presidential election it's not surprising that Obama chose a Lincolnesque theme of unity.


 [Inauguration 2013: Comment] 

President
Barack Obama repeatedly uttered the words "we the people" during his
second inaugural speech in Washington today as a rallying call for
unity. 
 
Obama called for a diverse but inclusive United States
of America that aspires towards the ideals of the Declaration of
Independence: "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," Obama added. 
 
Today's
speech was relatively subdued compared to his first inaugural speech
which was soaring, high-spirited and hopeful and it was about two minutes shorter: but it was efficient and clearly
meant to provide a practical approach to moving the country forward, by
first addressing the divisions created since 2009, primarily by the
Republicans' now failed agenda which was to ensure that Obama had a
one-term presidency. 
 
Given the partisan politics and Republican
intransigence that almost derailed Obama's major policy agenda and the
bitterly contested 2012 presidential election it's not surprising that
Obama chose a Lincolnesque theme of "post-battle" unity.  
 
President Obama
invoked the U.S. Civil War, which divided this country into the Southern
slave-states and the Northern abolitionist states. Obama said the war
was fought because the country couldn't endure as half-free and
half-slave.  
 
By echoing that period of U.S. history, the
president clearly suggests that a divided U.S. won't be able to address
many of today's challenges if the nation and Congress remains bitterly
divided. It's a clear public acknowledgment of the heavy toll that
the obstructionist Republican agenda and Tea Party rejectionism has taken on this country. 
 
Lincoln's
task was more challenging of course as he struggled to unite the
country following the war with the confederate states and he was ultimately
felled by a gunman. 
 
In addition to the racial divides, the
president also made a vigorous call for bridging class divisions. He
said the U.S. hadn't thrown off the yoke of the British crown in order
to create a nation ruled by the elite or by the mob.  
 
Obama
might have been referring to the dominant role that money from
corporation and wealthy Americans now plays in electing U.S. lawmakers
and indeed the president; especially following the Citizens United
Supreme Court ruling which eliminated caps on third party donations. 
 
In the last campaign cycle both campaigns spent more than $1 billion each. 
 
The
reference to the mob could also refer to the importance of having duly
elected government in place: it could also be interpreted as criticism
of some Tea Party elements whose anti-Obama rhetoric, including challenging his legitimacy, intimidated the
more traditional Republicans into opposing every major policy initiative
the president attempted over the past four years. 
 
So extreme
was the Tea Party that during the primaries last year Republican voters
chose candidates who were not electable nationally and the party ended
up losing sure-winnable senate seats. 
 
Pushing back against the
Tea Party's parochialism and separatism, President Obama made a vigorous
defense of the role of Central government. Throughout U.S. history
Washington played a critical role: from preserving the union itself to
marshaling resources that helped to build the railroads, the highways,
and the electric grids that spurred rapid economic growth. Even the
Internet, which most of us can't now imagine living without, was
developed by the government. 
 
The most sustained applause for
President Obama came when he mentioned education: he has been a big
proponent of quality education and his administration allocated hundreds
of billions of dollars. The administration's Race To The Top program
made available billions of dollars to states on a competitive basis,
based on how states improved the quality of their education system.
Obama has long maintained that the U.S. will lose any remaining economic
productivity advantages it still enjoys, to countries such as Brazil,
India and China, unless the nation's education system is radically
improved. 
 
In a clear reference to the partisan politics that
surrounded major policy initiative or legislation -- including the
stimulus bill, healthcare reform, financial industry regulation, the
debt ceiling negotiations, and the recent fiscal cliff talks -- the
president said the nation need not be paralyzed by differences between
Democrats and Republicans. The debate over what role Washington should
play in the nation's affairs has raged for a long time and won't
be resolved overnight, Obama noted. 
 
The president clearly felt
the sting from some of the harsh language that characterized the
political discourse over the past four years -- after all, how could he
forget the moment Republican lawmaker Rep. Joe Wilson who interrupted his State of The
Union address when he yelled, "you lie." 
 
The president is
clearly gearing up for the challenges he will face, especially in
deficit reduction negotiations. Given that the economy has now enjoyed
slow but sustained growth for more than two years, popular support can
help him resist Republicans' demand for massive cuts in social
spending.

Also, without dwelling on the challenges he faced in
getting healthcare legislation passed, the president noted that while
the country did need to reduce the deficit it should not be done at the
expense of affordable healthcare. Republicans still talk about wanting
to repeal the historic healthcare legislation. The president 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." 
 
The president repeatedly spoke about
the principle that all Americans have the right to equal opportunity to
pursue their dreams and to enjoy happiness. This is an appeal that
worked for the president during the presidential campaign when
contrasted with candidate Mitt Romney's now infamous remark that he
didn't need to focus on the needs of the 47% of electorate who would
always support Obama anyway. 
 
Obama noted that the nation's
social safety net benefited many Americans, including working Americans
when they lose their jobs. "They do not make us a nation of takers," he
said, again throwing a clear jab at Republicans who during the last
election cycle claimed many of Obama's voters were dependent on the
state. He said "a great nation must care for the vulnerable, and protect
its people from life's worst hazards and misfortune."

On this date
of Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday, Obama also spoke about the need to
combat poverty. He said a person born to poverty should have equal
chances for success. One of Dr. King's  most memorable speech was "Why I
Am Opposed to The War In Vietnam" in which he condemned the war and the
negative toll it was taking on domestic programs to combat poverty in
the United States.  
President Obama's supporters have argued that it
wasn't possible to introduce legislation that would only specifically
target the very poor when unemployment pushed towards 10% with millions
of Americans looking for work.

The president said while this nation
will continue military operations against enemies overseas, the country
would also work to resolve disputes through diplomacy. 
 
The
president mentioned the need to ensure that no American would again
stand on long line for hours waiting to vote, returning to an issue he
feels strongly about and which he'd mentioned on the night of his
re-election. 
 
The president spoke about the need for
comprehensive immigration reform: this is not surprising given how
Republicans' hardline positions, including Romney's strange proposal for
"voluntary deportations" backfired and cost him dearly among Latino
voters. Romney won only 27% of the Latino vote compared to Obama's 67%.
George W. Bush won 44% of the Latino vote in 2004. 
 
The
president mentioned Africa only in passing, when he said the U.S. would
support democracy on the continent and in Asia, the Americas and Middle
East "because our interests and our conscience compel us to act on
behalf of those who long for freedom." 
 
The administration is
still weighing how much emphasis to place on national security related
issues -- given developments in Mali and the Central African Republic,
where powerful insurgencies threatened the governments, and the Algerian
hostage crisis. Critics contend that the U.S. often overplayed regional
threats in order to justify deployment of soldiers on the continent:
African countries have rejected a permanent base for AFRICOM on the
continent. There are also reports that as conflict rages in North Africa
the administration is considering deploying more drones in Africa. 
 
On
the other hand, the president recently took an active role on African
affairs when he directly called Rwanda's president, Gen. Paul Kagame, to
warn him against continued support for M23, which had caused widespread
war crimes in Congo. Additionally, administration officials report that
President Obama will travel to a few African countries with
democratically elected governments this year. 
 
The president
specifically called for tolerance for members of the gay community
--which is a historic first as presidential inauguration speeches go,
saying "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." 
 
The president spoke on the need to embrace alternative
sources of energy to decrease the country's reliance on fossil fuel: He
spoke of the need to take action against climate change and pointed to
raging uncontrollable fires as evidence to those who still deny that
industry impacts climate change. He was clearly referring to China,
which has gained a head start in harnessing energy from nature, when he
said, "We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power
new jobs and new industries — we must claim its promise."

Obama
noted that the U.S. was winding down military involvement overseas and
that "lasting peace does not require perpetual war." The U.S. "strength
of arms" needed to be balance with "rule of law" in this country, the
president said.

Nevertheless, the administration has been criticized for
domestic warrantless monitoring of American citizens, the broad powers
of detentions without charge granted to the government, and disputed powers that
grant the president has used to authorize targetng for drone attacks U.S. citizens
overseas who are regarded as enemy combatants.


"Speaking Truth To Empower."



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