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Politics 2013: Obama's address more a call to arms than unity-seeking

By NICOLE DEBEVEC, United Press International   |   Jan. 27, 2013 at 4:00 AM   |   Comments

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Inauguration Day 2013 is in the books. President Obama spoke about his hopes and aspirations for his second term in office -- a term unfettered by re-election because of term limits.

His Inauguration Day speech spoke of "we, the people" and how "we, the people" must rally around issues such as climate change, gay rights, improved education, voting rights, immigration reform and healthcare initiatives, among other progressive views.

If it sounds familiar, it may be because those were the same, or at least similar, issues Obama campaigned on in his first run at the White House.

"Much of the [inauguration] speech was a rehash of his 2008 agenda," said political commentator Steven Schier, a political science professor at Carleton College in Minnesota. "In his 2009 inaugural speech, he spoke more of cooperation toward achieving broad national goals. There was far less unity language in this speech and more of an exhortation to his followers."

Indeed, where Obama's 2009 inaugural address had warm phrases of cooperation and a pledge to change "business as usual" in Washington, the 2013 version was provocative.

"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," Obama told the sea of humanity before him from the Capitol. "For now decisions are upon us and we cannot afford delay."

In recognition of the partisanship in the nation's capital, Obama noted, "We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate."

Schier isn't alone in his view that Obama's 2013 speech was a rallying cry. Observers, analysts and political insiders all agree the speech last week was a glimpse at an agenda that is as aggressive as it is progressive.

Obama also borrowed from the Tea Party movement's playbook, using the Constitution to rally support for his agenda. He staked his position on issues by starting with "we, the people" then presenting the issue.

When he spoke of preserving Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, Obama said, "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 healthcare and the size of our deficit. ... 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."

Fox News commentator Charles Krauthammer called Obama's address "very important" historically because it advocated the opposite of President Ronald Reagan's famous inaugural address line: "Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem."

"This speech today was an ode to big government. It was a hymn to big government," Krauthammer said.

His 18 1/2-minute speech, delivered on the national holiday celebrating the life of civil rights activist the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., included the gamut of progressive themes: climate change, immigration reform, gun control, same-sex equality, protecting seniors and the vulnerable, requiring those who have more to pay more to provide government services to all. But while packed with issues, his speech was light on specifics.

"What the speech said to me was that a new kind of liberal government is back," Sean Wilentz, an American history professor at Princeton University, told The Washington Post. "It's not that you are going to evade politics or change politics or fix politics. You are going to change the country by being political."

Shahid Buttar, executive director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, said in a statement, "Some critics of Mr. Obama's inaugural address may describe his comments as radical. But insisting on values as fundamental as 'equality before the law' and the 'enduring strength of our Constitution' are hardly radical. Indeed, they are simply restatements of principles that have long united America."

Critics, Buttar said, would do better to challenge Obama's "derogation in practice of the same values he professes in his lofty speeches. The president's first term unfortunately witnessed a continued extension of the Bush-Cheney legacy, and he seems no more inclined than his neo-con predecessors to heed longstanding constitutional limits on executive power."

He cited as examples the use of armed drone aircraft, unmanned aerial drones for domestic spying without warrants and "the unprecedented crackdown on immigrants" as examples of the president's "legacy that undermines the rights of all Americans, regardless of political party or ideology."

No matter what, if Obama has any hopes of meeting his aggressive goals he best move quickly because the window is closing, MSNBC said.

"Second-term presidents generally get eight months or so ... where there's a honeymoon to push an agenda," James Thurber, director of Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University, told MSNBC. "He doesn't even have a month."

Schier, the political commentator, said progressive policies will be at the center of Obama's intended second-term agenda, "but the question is: 'How long will they stay there?' Presidential agendas are often overtaken by national and international events."

Obama will press his agenda when the issues "don't cost much and can be achieved through executive action. That's a limited category of issues," Schier said. "Fiscal reality and a divided Congress will prevent him from accomplishing much more than that."

Obama also acknowledged his second term faces a still-soft economy and an unemployment rate at the same level as when he took office in 2009.

"[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," the president said.

© 2013 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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