I often ask who in their right mind would want to be President of the United States. The stress, the personal attacks, the ungrateful electorate, subjecting the family to the microscope, and the constant second guessing. Why on earth? Why on earth would anyone want to seek a second term? Well Barack Obama has successfully run for president twice and he will lead this nation for the next 4 years. While expectations were higher in 2009, Monday’s inauguration speech certainly raised the hope of millions Americans. Of course conservative commentators were quick to criticize and label the President’s speech as nothing more than liberal partisan talking points.
But was the President’s inaugural address a liberal or progressive manifesto? Was it derisive and contemptuous of Conservative ideals? Did he spike the football? Did he ignore the real economic problems facing the country? Was it a laundry list sop to the interests who got him re-elected?
Firstly, the idea that President Obama’s speech was progressive depends on what one calls progressive. Merriam-Webster defines the noun as “one believing in moderate political change and especially social improvement by governmental action.” Keep that in mind. I strongly urge people to watch the video of the address or read the text, but in the meantime here are some telling passages:
· 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.
· But 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
· We believe that America's prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class
· We, the people, still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity. We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit. But 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.
· We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult.
· We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war.
· 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.
· But the words I spoke today are not so different from the oath that is taken each time a soldier signs up for duty, or an immigrant realizes her dream.
Is that progressive? One would think referencing the Declaration of Independence would be considered conservative. Saving the planet and opposing perpetual war seem very conservative in nature. But that is only half the equation.
Conservative commentators are fond of saying that we are center right nation. Well if that is true:
· Why does a majority of Americans support same sex marriage and equal benefits to these couples?
· Why does a majority of Americans support the notion that Americans should not be denied health insurance for an existing condition?
· Why does a majority of Americans support immigration reform including a pathway to citizenship?
· Why does a majority of Americans support banning military style weapons?
· Why does a majority of Americans support Roe vs. Wade?
· Why do twice as many Americans believe climate change is man-made compared to those that do not?
Is it possible for us to be right leaning and progressive? It would have to be if you were to believe conservative commentators. Or does it mean we are a progressive nation and the President is in the center? Or is the President progressive and America is Center-left.
Perhaps we are more enlightened than we tend to believe, and the conservative commentators are in denial.
What remains to be seen as whether the president’s words become legislation or executive order. Those that oppose may run the risk of further isolation. How progressive.