Standing on the mall Monday among the great and diverse crowd of people who came to celebrate the second inauguration of the president, I reacted strongly to two aspects of the day. The first was to the feeling produced by the crowd, to the moment itself. The second was something else, something that became perfectly clear: a new American “demos” has arrived.
The “demos” of today, on display on the mall, was remarkable -- a sea of people, supremely diverse in race, in age and in income levels, but united in the joy of the moment and in an ongoing sense of possibility for the future. It was a “demos” that stands in the cold and in long lines, not just at the inauguration but on Election Day through the night to exercise their rights as citizens. This is a new “demos” that asks that its diversity be more than simply cosmetic, but reflected in public policies that are more broad-based, inclusive and committed to equality than those who have come before.
And that breadth was fully reflected in the president's speech. President Obama's speech celebrated the values that have long animated the progressive movement. He called out the inequality whose character is that "a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it.” The president said that America’s prosperity must be built on a rising middle class, and he declared, as we at Demos know, that a growing middle class doesn't happen by accident. It is the result of smart public policy, a respect for the dignity of labor, and a commitment by an active and empowered government to move on behalf of all its citizens. We did it once, and we can -- and must -- do it again to ensure that our future middle class looks like America.
I was struck by the forcefulness with which the president repudiated economic Darwinism. He declared, in direct rejection of the conservative refrain: “the commitments we make to each other through Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security... do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.” He declared climate change to be a cause no longer susceptible to argument, but to action. And the powerful embrace he made of equality for gay Americans, for immigrants, for all who have been marginalized in one way or another was inspiring.
The president not only reminded us that we can improve our country by taking action together through government, but also in the streets and in our communities, through movement-building. From “Seneca Falls” to “Selma, and Stonewall,” it was invitation from a former community organizer to press him, and all those who work in the Capitol behind him, to fulfill our nation’s ideals.
In President Obama's inaugural address we heard perhaps the strongest argument for an activist government and the strongest evocation of progressive values from the president to date. It is an address that will resonate and uplift future generations of progressives and serves as a rallying call for those in the fight today. It was a regenerative narrative that, after four years of a deadlocked Congress, Americans needed to hear. And it needs our support.