Download Worksheet
January 22nd, 2013

Obama Sets Progressive Tone in Inaugural Speech


In his second inaugural address, President Barack Obama outlined the issues he intends to tackle in language that reflected his goal of forging a meaningful legacy and the freedom of not having to run for office again.

The president addressed the crowd of spectators that had gathered on the eastern steps of the Capitol building. To get close, inauguration-goers would have had to have a ticket, but there were non-ticketed areas throughout the National Mall.

Mr. Obama opened with words from the Declaration of Independence:  “What makes us exceptional — what makes us American — is our allegiance to an idea articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

“Today we continue a never-ending journey to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time.”

The president used the opportunity to “tell his own story of American history,” said Yale University historian Beverly Gage on the NewsHour. “And it was very clear that Barack Obama was telling a story that was about the expansion of rights.”

Obama’s speech connected American struggles for civil rights

In his address, the president invoked “Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall,” connecting the women’s rights convention in 1848, the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the Stonewall riots that pushed forward gay rights in one sentence.

“He seemed to be adopting some of the kind of tactics and styles that Franklin Roosevelt once used,” Gage said. “This speech was in the end really an invitation and was a kind of invitation to the public to say these are the issues that I care about.”

New York Times columnist David Brooks dubbed it a “strong argument for modern liberalism,” and said, “It was the most unapologetically liberal speech I’ve heard Barack Obama give.”

Excited inauguration spectators on the National Mall wave flags distributed by volunteers as the inauguration ceremony begins on January 21, 2013. Organizers were expecting up to 800,000 people to turn out for the event.


How will Obama’s second term be different?

The difference in tone between Mr. Obama’s first inaugural address in 2009 and his second in 2013 had many people wondering how different his two terms will be.  “In Hollywood, it’s famous. Sequels are inferior to the original. And usually inaugural addresses follow that rule. This didn’t. This was a very different speech,” noted presidential historian Richard Norton Smith on the NewsHour.

To some Republicans, the speech was proof that the president plans to push through a liberal agenda in his second term.

“I think all Americans would hope that President Obama, now that he’s not facing re-election, would actually sit down and honestly work with Republicans who are very sincere in our desire to fix these problems,” Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., told the New York Times. “But I just don’t see that with this president.”

While not directly addressing Republicans, President Obama invoked images of a country working together.

“Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia, to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for and cherished and always safe from harm,” he said.

And later: “You and I, as citizens, have the power to set this country’s course. You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time — not only with the votes we cast, but with the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideals.”

The president will have the chance to deliver another big speech on Feb. 12, when he gives his fifth State of the Union Address.

— Compiled by Leah Clapman for NewsHour Extra

Submit Your Student Voice

NewsHour Extra will not use contact information for any purpose other than our own records. We do not share information with any other organization.

RSS Content

Tooltip of RSS content 3