President Obama's second inaugural speech is being hailed as decidedly ideological, perhaps even a signpost toward more liberal policies to come. I watched the speech and thought it was a good but not great speech — blessedly short (unlike too many big speeches) and far-reaching in its scope. It struck me as a more political than a statesman-like speech, one that laid out policy ambitions foremost but also aspired to the great national ideals of this country.
Some have called it a "civil rights speech," and it had that element, with mentions of seminal events in the struggle for the civil rights of women, black Americans, and gays. But it also had allusions to the historic moments of the past, from the Declaration of Independence and the Constitutional Convention to the Civil War. Obama embraced the principles that guided the Founding Fathers and Abraham Lincoln, but he warned that the principles of those great moments must not leave a nation stagnant, mired in the world of the 18th or 19th century. While standing by our historic values and principles, America must address modern issues that would never have occurred to Washington or Lincoln, he suggested.
The speech laid out an itinerary of liberal causes, from gay rights to climate change, but did not forsake negotiation or compromise on these issues. While making clear his objectives, the president did not list any non-negotiable demands. He clearly sees his election victory as an opportunity to be more liberal (let's use the "L-word" and not euphemistic "progressive") in his second term.
As the crowds go home and the inaugural platform is torn down, we will see whether the more assertive Obama can find a way to deal with a divided Congress to achieve his goals and also to fix the runaway national debt and chronic budget deficit.