Liberated and liberal Obama sets second-term agenda

view gallery VIEW GALLERY



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.

people And here is why...
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
voicesBy the man who has
Arsene Wenger tried to sign Eden Hazard
footballAfter 18 years with Arsenal, here are 18 things he has still never done as the Gunners' manager
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
The new Windows 10 Start Menu
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson star in The Twilight Saga but will not be starring in the new Facebook mini-movies
tvKristen Stewart and Stephenie Meyer will choose female directrs
Arts and Entertainment
Hilary North's 'How My Life Has Changed', 2001
books(and not a Buzzfeed article in sight)
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete today
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey
comedyFirst national survey reveals Britain’s comedic tastes
Arts and Entertainment
Twerking girls: Miley Cyrus's video for 'Wrecking Ball'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran performs at his Amazon Front Row event on Tuesday 30 September
musicHe spotted PM at private gig
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

QA/BA - Agile

£400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are currently seekin...

PPA Supply Teachers

£121 - £142 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Early Years, KS1 & 2 Prima...

Primary Supply Teacher

£121 - £142 per annum: Randstad Education Luton: Early Years, KS1 & 2 Prim...

Primary Supply Teacher

£121 - £142 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Primary supply teacher Hertford...

Day In a Page

Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?