In his second inaugural address, President Obama presented a “limitless” America tested by crises and constantly made anew by a “never-ending journey” to live up to “our founding creed” that “all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights.”
Presenting a far more optimistic tone than his first address in January of 2009, as the nation was losing nearly a million jobs a month, Obama made history by being the first president to use his inaugural speech to connect the struggles of gay Americans to those of women and African-Americans.
“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,” he said — linking the women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls in 1848, the spontaneous demonstration of gay men against the police in 1969 and the march for African-American rights from Selma in 1965 — “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 also thrilled progressives by saying two words few expected to hear: Climate change.
“We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations,” he said.
The biggest applause from the estimated 800,000 gathered to hear the president speak when he said, “A decade of war is now ending.”
The president at times seemed to be consciously addressing criticisms made of him over the last four years. He rejected the notion that government alone can solve all problems. But he also asserted that acting together through the government is how freedom is preserved.
“But we have always understood that when times change, so must we; that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action,” he said.
He directly took on Republican attacks on the social safety net and the claim by some that they create a nation dependent on the government. “The commitments we make to each other — through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security — these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us,” he said, almost sounding as if he were giving a rebuttal to Mitt Romney’s 47 percent speech. “They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.”
The president also took on progressive critics who have been frustrated by the pace of change and their assessment that he has been took quick to compromise.
“We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect. We must act, knowing that today’s victories will be only partial, and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years, and 40 years, and 400 years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall,” he said, again linking the struggles of today with the promise of the founders.
On the next page you can read the transcript of the president’s inaugural address as presented by the White House: