On Jan. 21, I rolled out of bed at 4 a.m. and was on the Metro headed to Capitol Hill by 5. Then began the hours of long lines, a handful of security checkpoints and, for some of us, a brief nap on the grass of the Capitol grounds.
When President Barack Obama finally came to the podium, I expected his speech to be a routine, somewhat nauseating, politically-motivated plea for bipartisanship and unity; maybe that was the cynic in me.
However, Obama delivered an inaugural speech much different from what many of us expected — to my delight and to the delight of the American left.
President Obama’s second inaugural address was what liberals — and even many centrists — have been waiting for since his election in 2008. It renewed the “hope” he spoke of in the previous campaign.
Although the president called for bipartisanship and an end to petty politics, it seems as though Obama has accepted a divided Washington as a reality. And as long as Speaker of the House John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell “lead” the congressional Republicans, we must not expect anything more than obstruction from the GOP; Republicans have never been the party of solutions.
The president is finally moving forward on his own terms.
As our nation’s first black president was sworn in on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, his inaugural address championed equality and civil rights.
Obama said, “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; 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 continued that the journey for equality is not complete until women make equal wages, until gays and lesbians are treated equally under the law, until we welcome immigrants seeking a better life on our shores.
Obama’s activist inaugural speech was historic in countless ways.
His alliteration of Seneca Falls, Selma and Stonewall was bold — he was the first president to include the word “gay” in an inaugural address.
Finally, for the first time in U.S. history, gay and lesbian Americans have an advocate and partner in the White House.
For four more years, African Americans and other minorities have a president with an understanding of their unique American journey — a president who himself has been a victim of racism and oppression, committed to progress and equality.
American women for four more years have a president committed to equal pay for equal work — devoted to ensuring a woman’s right to make health care choices affecting her body.
After eight years of environmental destruction and recklessness under George W. Bush, Obama assertively addressed the issue of climate change, saying, “We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.
“Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms. The path toward sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it.”
Finally, the president gave much-needed straight-talk to Republicans, with their heads in the sand regarding climate change.
Regardless of whether climate change is cyclical or man-made, we should expect environmental and energy policy to be a second-term priority for the Obama administration.
Elections have consequences. Obama’s second inaugural address gives Republicans a chance to be on the right side of history.
As the administration and congressional Democrats tackle the issues of entitlements, voting rights, gay rights, gun control and immigration reform, the GOP has a clear choice to either help America progress — or to continue to be obstructionists and obstacles of progress.
If the Republican Party chooses to be on the wrong side of history, we will undoubtedly move forward without them.
Sean Higgins is a political science and sociology double-major from Brookings, S.D. Follow him on Twitter @seanmhiggins.