January 22, 2013

Inaugural address: Obama issues call to tackle challenges

THE VISION: President sets a liberal agenda and seeks the public's support THE TONE: Election gave him confidence to pursue goals on his own terms

By DAN BALZ and DAVID A. FAHRENTHOLD The Washington Post

WASHINGTON - A self-assured President Obama used his second inaugural address Monday to lay out a bold liberal vision of the American future, drawing direct links between the origins of the republic and some of the most vexing political issues of the day.

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President Obama blows a kiss as he and first lady Michelle Obama walk on Pennsylvania Avenue near the White House during the Inauguration Parade. The ceremonies included appearances by pop-culture icons, including Beyonce, who sang the national anthem.

The Associated Press

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President Barack Obama receives the oath of office from Chief Justice John Roberts as first lady Michelle Obama and his daughters Malia and Sasha listen at the ceremonial swearing-in at the U.S. Capitol on Monday.


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The usual inauguration choreography of prayers and poems and crowds became a powerful demonstration of history's arc: The first African-American president was taking his second oath of office on a day named for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on the Mall where King thundered almost 50 years ago about the United States' unfulfilled promise.

On a day when the president was at times confident and wistful, solemn and jubilant, he called on the American people to join him in creating a new nation grounded in old ideas of equality and opportunity.

"What makes us exceptional, what makes us America, is our allegiance to an idea articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago," Obama said. "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal." He linked the struggle for civil rights and women's suffrage to the debate over same-sex marriage, and promised to reform immigration legislation and fight climate change.

Obama has never lacked for confidence, but rarely has that attribute been on display as clearly as on Monday.

This was not the politician who campaigned in 2008 on themes of transcending the divisive politics of the past, though there were ritual calls for the country and its leaders to seize this moment together. Instead, it was a president who has accepted the reality of those divisions and is determined to prevail on his terms.

"We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate. We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect," Obama said to a throng bundled against the cold weather in scarves and hats.

His first campaign was aspirational, and he came to office believing, or at least hoping, that through force of personality he could gently guide the opposing sides to consensus on issues that had long resisted resolution. Monday's speech conveyed the ambitions of a president who now believes that a different style of leadership is required.

In his speech, Obama set out his priorities for a second term, goals that will cheer the liberal wing of the Democratic Party and probably alarm many on the political right. He challenged Republicans to meet him partway, though not exactly in the middle. The question is whether he will be any more successful in his second term than he was in his first.

There are reasons for the president setting a different tone in his second inaugural than in his first. Two years after he and his party took a beating in the midterm elections, he now holds the strongest hand in Washington. His approval ratings have climbed above 50 percent, while his Republican opponents in Congress remain mired in disapproval ratings almost three times as high as their approval ratings.

Obama's second inaugural address also reflected a changing America and the coalition that re-elected him to office. The nation's first African-American president leads an ever-more diverse population and a country in which attitudes and mores continue to change, particularly among the youngest in society.

The policy agenda he put forth, and the values he enunciated, spoke directly to that coalition. Never before has a president used an inaugural address to speak so openly about the cause of gay rights, linking the gay rights movement with Selma and civil rights and the 1839 Seneca Falls Convention and women's rights.

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