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With a speech containing the phrase “we, the people” five times, a couple shout-outs to self evident truths, and multiple mentions of founding principles and documents, President Obama’s second inaugural address was a clear allusion to a time when leaders of the United States were figuring out what was important to Americans and how to govern accordingly.
While the throwback to America’s roots certainly had a nostalgic charm, the juxtaposition between then and now got me thinking: how would the Founding Fathers feel about an inaugural address given by a man of color that stressed the importance of equality for gays, women and immigrants and declared climate change a real, unfaltering problem that needs to be solved?
I imagine a cacophony of wooden teeth hitting the floor as their jaws drop in horror. And you know what? I think that’s fantastic.
I love that Obama was so unapologetic about his beliefs and hopes for our country. I love that he stood up and essentially said, “I believe in the basic founding principles that built this land like the pursuit of happiness and freedom while also believing that two women can marry! I believe in peace and security which is why if you still think global warming is some made-up hippie garbage, I must confidently tell you that you’re really, really wrong! I believe that fighting for what we believe in doesn’t have to mean going to war! I’m the elected leader of this nation, and this is the stuff I’m going to be working on the next four years!”
Roughly paraphrased, of course.
A more verbatim quote that accurately encapsulates this attitude is when President Obama said, “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.”
In addition to putting forth the idea that we can still patriotically pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America even if some of our values have—logically and healthily—evolved since the original flag was sewn, this statement captures another reason why Obama’s speech was so satisfying: the call to action.
This inaugural address was not some fluff piece that spewed out cliché ideals and overused political jargon about the “American dream” or the good ol’ apple-pie-and-baseball shtick. Obama was not afraid to mention hard-hitting issues that need work: sustainable energy, voting rights, foreign policy, the economy. Instead of listing them off as insincere talking points, he put himself along with other leaders of the country responsible for them as denoted by his statement: “For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they’ve never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth.”
And a unified people, at that. In true Obama fashion, he called for the end of political divisions, using the word “together” nine times throughout the speech. He conveyed that in order to make the necessary changes and desired progress, political party and associated ideologies can no longer bog down hot button issues that require action.
“Being true to our founding documents does not require us to agree on every contour of life,” President Obama said. ”It does not mean we all define liberty in exactly the same way or follow the same precise path to happiness. 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.”
Contact CU Independent Opinion Editor Lizzy Hernandez atElizabeth.firstname.lastname@example.org.