Liberated and liberal Obama sets second-term agenda

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

 

Washington

This was the real Barack Obama: not the calculating party politician with an eye on the next election, not a president sometimes accused of aloofness, even passivity – but a national leader boldly setting out what he wants to do, and only too aware he has precious little time to achieve it.

Today’s inaugural speech was the 57th in US history, and among recent specimens, one of the very best, likely to live in the memory much longer than Mr Obama’s first in 2009. With its tight focus on domestic issues, it was the polar opposite of the last second inaugural, George W. Bush’s call to arms to “end tyranny in our world.”

Gone is the requirement for “perpetual war” to ensure national security. Mr Obama instead vowed to seek to resolve differences with other countries peaceably – “not because we are naïve….but because engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear.”

This was Obama the liberated liberal, or ‘progressive’, as liberals now prefer to call themselves. This was Obama the realist but also Obama the idealist, a president tempered by four years of bitter partisan battle in Washington, yet one who knew that the circumstances were far more favourable than when he took office four years ago.

Then, America was threatened by a second depression and struggling to extricate itself from two wars. Now the economy is recovering, US troops are out of Iraq and will soon be out of Afghanistan. He has the political capital generated by an election recently and handsomely won. His Republican opponents are in disarray.

 The specifics will only be set out in his State of the Union address next month, but Mr Obama served notice of his priorities: action on climate change, on the federal deficit and the need to rein back health care and entitlement spending, on comprehensive immigration reform. His mention of the word ‘Newtown’ was guarantee that gun control will be on the agenda – as will full and equal rights for gays, the next stage in America’s civil rights struggle.

Today was Martin Luther King day, and America’s first black president vowed to continue Dr King’s journey. “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law,” he declared – “for if we are created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.” No president has ever embraced the gay cause so unequivocally.

Naturally, this and other parts of the speech won’t go down well with many Republicans, even with some more conservative Democrats. But Mr Obama today was not triumphalist or confrontational; rather this was a president serving notice he would no longer stand aloof from the fray, who would fight for compromise and common sense.

If the political system was to yield results, give and take was essential: “We cannot mistake absolutism for principle.” No measure passed by Congress would be perfect, but that was no excuse for inaction. Dr King’s ‘fierce urgency of now’ was the true theme of the president’s speech.

Mr Obama of course has a fight on his hands. Inaugurals are occasions for soaring rhetoric, where neither awkward details, nor the eternal shortcomings of human nature, nor the dictates of the American political calendar get in the way.

The reality of the last is that this president has perhaps 18 months to complete his domestic legacy. Come mid-2014, the mid-term elections will move centre stage, then battle lines will be drawn for the contest to succeed Mr Obama. As for the Republicans, they have have been severely bloodied, but are not unbowed. The 44th president has his second term sights extremely high. Yesterday though, he made a pretty good start.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Manager

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity to...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Manager - Production

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Managers are required to join the UK's...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Manager

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will maximise the effective...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + uncapped commission : SThree: Hello! I know most ...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss