WASHINGTON—President Barack Obama repeated his oath of office before the eyes of the world Monday, launching his second term with a confident address on his vision for the future.
Success, however, will ride on retaining traditional values, equality of opportunity, and unity, he said.
“America’s possibilities are limitless, for we possess all the qualities that this world without boundaries demands: youth and drive; diversity and openness; an endless capacity for risk and a gift for reinvention,” the president said, looking out from Capitol Hill at a National Mall packed with supporters. “My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment, and we will seize it—so long as we seize it together.”
In his 15-minute inaugural address, the president laid out a progressive agenda for the next four years, including climate change and immigration, and acknowledged the difficulties involved in transitioning to the future. The challenges ahead will require new yet unified action and should be underwritten by the values laid out by the founding fathers.
“We have always understood that when times change, so must we; that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action,” said the president.
While the weather was warmer and the crowd smaller than on Obama’s first inauguration in 2009, the White House estimated that around 1 million supporters braved a cool Washington to see Obama sworn in for a second term. The president and Vice President Joe Biden also took the oath of office in small private ceremonies Sunday, as is the custom when the official date for the transfer of power lands on a Sunday.
First-Term Issues Revived
In his address, Obama indicated that issues like climate change and immigration are included in his second-term agenda. Those issues, flagged for his first term, had been pushed aside by other pressing matters.
Obama acknowledged climate change doubters but countered with references to the year’s extreme weather events, saying that a failure to respond “would betray our children and future generations.”
“The path toward sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult,” he said. “But America cannot resist this transition, we must lead it.”
Voting rights and immigration, which became polarizing issues in his first term, were also raised.
The journey ahead for Americans will not be complete “until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote,” and “until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity,” he said.
The president also gave a subtle nod to the proposals he announced last week on reducing gun violence. The journey will also not be complete “until all our children, from the streets of Detroit … to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for and cherished and always safe from harm,” he said.
Speaking to a Wide Audience
While some of the issues raised may inflame conservatives, the president warned liberals that they, too, will be faced with hard decisions and compromise.
“We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit,” he said. He did not back away, however, from demarcating battle lines to House Republicans on what he will accept in order to reduce costs and deficit.
“We reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future,” he said.
To the international audience, Obama said that he will use the “strength of arms” to uphold universal values, and he reaffirmed his administration’s commitment to rule of law, alliances, and the power of engagement.
“We will show the courage to try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully—not because we are naïve about the dangers we face, but because engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear,” he said.
Expressing his frustration at a first term wrought with tension and a gridlocked Congress, Obama pressed the urgency of action.
“For now decisions are upon us and we cannot afford delay. We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics. … We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect.”
He finished with a reminder that, like the pledge immigrants make to become U.S. citizens, the presidential oath is to “God and country, not party or faction.”
“They are the words of citizens and they represent our greatest hope,” he said, adding, “You and I, as citizens, have the power to set this country’s course.”
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