"As times change, so must we," President Barack Obama said in his eloquent and inspiring inaugural address, delivered to several hundred thousand witnesses gathered in front of the U.S. Capitol. He continued, "Fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action."
Mr. Obama's address marked the beginning of his second term as president. The remarks fell on Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and focused heavily on civil rights, equality and fairness for all. "We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths - that all of us are created equal," he said, "just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall."
The president, citing an end of a decade of war, and the nascent economic recovery, said, "America's possibilities are limitless." He then gave the nation a clarion call, "My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment, and we will seize it - so long as we seize it together."
House Speaker John Boehner and Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who were seated on the platform near President Obama, showed no emotion during the address. But the president delivered a message intended for his opposition. "The commitments we make to each other -- through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security -- these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great. "
And, in reference to the partisan divisiveness that has created great turmoil in the halls of Congress for the past four years, Mr. Obama said, "We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate."
Yet some of the issues the president highlighted, in his 19-minute address, are sure to meet resistance from Republicans in Congress. Mr. Obama devoted a paragraph to climate change, which wasn't even debated during the presidential campaign. Speaking of gun control, the president said, "Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for, and cherished, and always safe from harm."
Mr. Obama took on criticism of his handling of Iran's nuclear program, "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."
In many ways, President Obama's speech was a continuation of his campaign to engage women, gays, immigrants and the middle class. "For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it. We believe that America's prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class." But he warned of tough choices ahead to reduce health care costs and the deficits. Nonetheless, he said, "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."
The president spoke confidently, with clarity and purpose. His speech laid out a progressive agenda, yet it was grounded in the values and intentions of America's Founding Fathers. "Being true to our founding documents does not require us to agree on every contour of life," he said, "Progress does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time -- but it does require us to act in our time."
As President Barack Obama entered the Capitol building, following his address, he turned and looked out at the vast crowd, and the Washington Monument in the distance. He then smiled.
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