A wide array of issues face President Barack Obama as he enters his second term. Although he and Vice President Joe Biden were officially sworn in on Sunday, Obama took the opportunity on Monday to address some of his legislative priorities. More broadly than that, the speech was remarkable for its clear and unapologetic defense of Progressive ideas. Although there were many aspects of the speech that reminded me of the 2012 campaign (“America's prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class”), in equal parts it was novel to me in its straightforwardness. Overall, the speech was effective in clarifying where the president stands at the start of his second term. Whether or not any of his policies will meet with approval by Congress is another matter entirely.
President Obama began his speech with an acknowledgement of the inaugural event itself, and how the act of peacefully transferring power testifies to “the enduring strength of our Constitution” and “the promise of our democracy”. He also noted, seemingly in a nod to Martin Luther King Jr., that “what binds this nation together is not the colors of our skin”. Surely, the remarkable historical arc from the Civil War to civil rights to the nations’ first black president was in the forefront of President Obama’s mind as he gave his second inaugural speech. Perhaps it was for this reason that Obama imbued his speech with the sense that progress – that is, what he might call progress – is an American value with a deep history.
Rhetorically, the speech was bound together with the phrase “We the people”. Already, Ayn Rand’s ghost was getting nervous, and truly it had just cause to fear, because what followed was an unashamed defense of collectivism as an American value, as well as a fundamental argument for the muscular role of government in our society: Together we determined that a modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce, schools and colleges to train...
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