The historic implications of a black man delivering his second inaugural speech to a nation once bitterly divided over slavery, and on a federal holiday honoring our most celebrated champion of civil rights, were not lost on Barack Obama.
The president embraced Martin Luther King Jr.’s notions of equality, and channeled his urgency for swift collective action in a soaring speech well-delivered by a man – matured by the disappointment of compromise in his first term – who knows time is running out to make his imprint on America.
Eschewing the typical platitudes of most inaugural speeches, Obama laid out a specific second-term agenda, a forthright argument that modern liberalism reflects the spirit of our founders’ dream.
Obama mentioned the rights of gay Americans – the first time in an inaugural address – in the same sentence as the struggle for women’s rights and King’s civil rights movement.
He extended the dream of equality to those not born of economic privilege. “We do not believe that in this country freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few.”
And the president said the commitments we make to take care of each other in times of need “do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.”
For Obama, those risks include addressing climate change, removing inequities from the tax code, reforming immigration laws, making sense of gun control, advancing equal pay for women and investing in education and infrastructure.
Obama left no doubt that he is determined to leave the nation better than he found it, and that he appears willing to abandon a natural inclination for the “grand bargain” in order to get things done.
These are big dreams for America. How Obama leads us to them will shape his already significant legacy and our future..