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Yield Not to Temptation

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On Monday morning, we watched history unfold before our very eyes. Validating the notion of progress and our adherence to keep this nation moving forward, we witnessed President Obama take the oath of office for a second term as our commander-in-chief. As one of five civil rights and labor leaders invited to the inauguration ceremony by the president, I sat on the platform and listened to his words of inspiration that not only encapsulated the sentiments of the moment, but outlined which direction we ought to continue going. I heard a speech that addressed critical challenges from climate change to voting, immigration and gay rights. Not only were we observing a tremendous moment, but each one of us was tasked with continuing down the road of advancement and equality. Unfortunately, by the time I arrived at the studio that evening for my MSNBC show, 'Politics Nation', the temptation to be distracted from our mandate as Americans was already in full effect.

First, it was 'Beyonce-gate'. The fabricated controversy that R&B superstar Beyonce Knowles allegedly lip-synced the national anthem at inauguration is nothing more than pure diversion. This isn't about Beyonce or her singing, but about those on the right that are angry at her just as they were angry at Oprah Winfrey in '08 for fundraising for then candidate Obama. They simply cannot stand our cultural icons supporting this president after doing their own research and coming to their own conclusions. And the fact remains that everyone -- from Yo-Yo Ma to Pavarotti -- have pre-recorded their performances at some point. Since Beyonce did not have the opportunity to rehearse with the Marine Band, she took this extra precaution according to reports. Her efforts to prevent desecration of the national anthem shows her patriotism and dedication; she should be applauded, rather than ridiculed. But some on the right would instead like to focus on this non-issue that has been cosigned by some well-meaning, but misguided people on the left.

The next big distraction was an attack on the president's inaugural address itself, and an attempt to paint it as somehow partisan. "We must act, knowing that today's victories will be only partial and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years and 40 years and 400 years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall," stated President Obama. Clearly laying out a vision for the future well beyond his own term in office, the president was consistently clear that this wasn't about him, but rather about 'we the people.' For some to reduce his words into partisan bickering is appalling. How anyone can turn where we are going for centuries into a partisan issue is beyond reason.

And finally, in a similar fashion, those seeking to criticize the president at every turn characterized his words on Monday as 'liberal'. If having basic human rights for all, and increasing equality across the board is liberal, then what is conservative? We shouldn't try to preserve dignity for our seniors? We shouldn't improve our voting system to encourage citizens to participate in the process? We shouldn't push for further civil rights for immigrants and gays/lesbians? We shouldn't work to keep our children safe from rising gun violence? We shouldn't care about increasingly dangerous weather patterns or rising temps? We shouldn't strive for a society that sees everyone as equals, and affords everyone a level playing field? Attempting to demonize this inaugural address says more about them than it does the president.

No matter how emotional or seemingly appealing distractions can be, they shouldn't tempt us to lose focus of the essence of the president's speech and of our greater collective challenge. "We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else, because she is an American; she is free, and she is equal, not just in the eyes of God but also in our own," said President Obama. That's the real task. We must keep our vision on making sure that every little girl and every little boy has an equal opportunity despite his/her circumstances, and knows that the possibilities are indeed endless because we valued a nation dedicated to fairness for all. Let's focus on this, instead of disruption that fills up chatter but doesn't solve problems. It can be easy sometimes to lose sight of the real goals of justice, liberty and equality, but yield not to the temptation.