Obama Codifies the Liberal Vision for America

obama-speechI’m reading the text of Obama’s inaugural speech, delivered yesterday on the steps of the US Capitol building. I’m tempted to consider this the defining moment of his Presidency for what’s he offers here is not just a laundry list of things that should be accomplished in the next four years, but rather an affirmation of the liberal (or progressive) vision for America’s future.

“Through blood drawn by lash and blood drawn by sword, we learned that no union founded on the principles of liberty and equality could survive half-slave and half-free. We made ourselves anew, and vowed to move forward together.

Together, we determined that a modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce, schools and colleges to train our workers.

Together, we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play.

Together, we resolved that a great nation must care for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.”

The roles of government are clearly laid out here:

1) a responsibility to provide the means for commerce (and thus freedom)
2) that government must protect basic market freedoms so that no one has a monopoly on trade (and thus freedom itself)
3) insure a basic and fair standard of living and health (and thus preserve the most basic of freedoms).

Incredibly, he addresses that great stain on our history, slavery, salient given that the speech was given on MLK day by the first black President of the US. Better yet he mentions the rights’ struggles of women, African-Americans and gays explicitly:

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 first two, Seneca Falls and Selma, were to be expected. The inclusion of the Stonewall Riots was exceptional. Freedom is not preserved by exercising control, but rather by allowing the marginalized access to the same rights and responsibilities as everyone else.

Though I have no time to write more, I wanted to state that I considered Obama’s second inaugural speech to be a defining moment for Liberals. We needed a sitting President to stand up and proudly state who we are and what we want. Liberals for too long have cowered in a corner, losing to Conservatives who have, until this point, far better exploited the power of words. We have, in effect, let the enemy define us.

I can only imagine what Romney would have said today. I now understand Conservative outrage at Obama’s win last November because now this speech is in the history books. I’m glad we won.

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About Pete Larson

Researcher at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. Lecturer in the University of Michigan School of Public Health and at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I do epidemiology, public health, GIS, health disparities and environmental justice. I also do music and weird stuff.

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