Obama Outlines Incomplete ‘Journey’ in Sweeping Start to Second Term

BY Christina Bellantoni and Terence Burlij  January 22, 2013 at 9:15 AM EST

President Obama gives his inaugural address; photo by Scott Eells/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Obama gives his inaugural address Monday. Photo by Scott Eells/Bloomberg via Getty Images.

The Morning Line

President Obama took a place in history Monday as the second commander in chief to take the oath of office four times, and paused to gaze upon a massive crowd waving American flags to celebrate his second term. It was a moment in time, the punctuation mark following an inaugural address that was a forceful defense of the role of government in solving problems.

As Mr. Obama talked about peace, justice and joining together to reinvent the nation, there was debate about whether it was, indeed, a speech offering a liberal outline for governing. On the NewsHour, 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.”

The general takeaway — among thinkers in Washington, at least — was that Mr. Obama had offered a true blueprint for why he believes in progressive values.

Consider the message as Mr. Obama talked about collective societal responsibility. “No single person can train all the math and science teachers we’ll need to equip our children for the future, or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores. Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation and one people,” the president said.

It was the most he’d said about energy and the environment in months, going right at those who “may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science,” and calling on America to lead the response to the threat of climate change.

Among other statements stirring progressives were testaments to those who forged changed “through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall,”

Mr. Obama told a crowd estimated to be between 800,000 and 1 million:

And we must be a source of hope to the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the victims of prejudice — not out of mere charity, but because peace in our time requires the constant advance of those principles that our common creed describes: tolerance and opportunity, human dignity and justice.

The president said it is upon this generation to move the nation into the next stage of equality for all.

“For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well,” he said. “Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote. Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country. 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.”

That was the lone mention of December’s mass shooting in Connecticut, which is expected to take up much of the focus in the beginning of his second term.

Mr. Obama professed that the nation “cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it,” that a “rising middle class” and chances of success are the most important American values. He touched only briefly on cutting costs and reducing the deficit.

Mr. Obama said helping others and supporting the poor strengthen the United States, and in a line that could well have been directed at the man he defeated to win re-election in November: “They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.”

He sought to assure critics that his own vision doesn’t mean “centuries’ long debates about the role of government” are settled for all time.

And in true Obama spirit, it had notes of hope as well:

This generation of Americans has been tested by crises that steeled our resolve and proved our resilience. A decade of war is now ending. An economic recovery has begun. America’s possibilities are limitless, for we possess all the qualities that this world without boundaries demands: youth and drive; diversity and openness; an endless capacity for risk and a gift for reinvention. My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment, and we will seize it — so long as we seize it together.

Watch the full address here or below:

Republicans on Capitol Hill raised their glasses, offered congratulations to Mr. Obama and took part in the pomp and circumstance, but weren’t impressed with the content of Mr. Obama’s speech.

It was called confrontational as Republicans questioned his views about the size and scope of the government’s collective responsibility.

Some GOP lawmakers skipped the proceedings altogether.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., spent Inauguration Day in South Carolina, stoking talk about a potential presidential bid in 2016.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., spent the day in Miami with his family. And Rep. Mark Amodei, who won a special election last year, stayed home in Nevada.

Relationships with Congress can define a president’s legacy, and Mr. Obama’s White House has signaled it is willing to take on even the most bruising of fights in the coming months.

As the president and first lady strolled down Pennsylvania Avenue, the White House sent out an email blast to its mailing list from Vice President Biden, who urged people to sign up and get involved.

“In the months ahead, we’re going to be tested, and nothing about the challenges we face will be easy,” Biden wrote. “So we’re going to need you with us — to build support for solutions, to help move the country forward.”

With a vote scheduled on the debt ceiling this week and the State of the Union address three weeks away, it isn’t clear just how steep or rocky the path forward will be over the next four years.

THE SHOW GOES ON

The NewsHour devoted the majority of Monday’s program to the inauguration.

We began with a rich outline of the day’s events, an effort led by Terence. From the sunrise to the dancing, we had it covered.

Watch here or below:

Gwen Ifill talked with Mark Shields and David Brooks about the signals Mr. Obama sent for his second term. Watch here or below:

Jeffrey Brown got some longer-term perspective from three presidential historians: Annette Gordon-Reed of Harvard University, Richard Norton Smith of George Mason University and Beverly Gage of Yale.

Watch that conversation here or below:

Ray Suarez was down on the National Mall, where he interviewed people from all over the country who had come to witness the occasion.

Watch Ray’s report here or below:

The student reporters in town through a NewsHour project kept InaugBlog up to date with fresh reporting. We also showcased one of their pieces featuring a student poet on the NewsHour.

LINE ITEMS

  • An important story slipped under the radar Monday as Virginia Republicans redrew state Senate districts while one lawmaker was in Washington for the inauguration. GOP Gov. Bob McDonnell wasn’t aware the move was afoot, his spokesman said. TPM’s Evan McMorris-Santoro has more here on Democratic reaction to what they are calling a “dirty trick.”

  • The Washington Post explores the next phase for Vice President Biden, who received hours of television time Monday and who is not being bashful about interest in 2016.

  • Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., will soon lay out plans for filibuster reform.

  • You can tag yourself and your friends on Facebook using the Washington Post’s awesome panorama of the West Front of the Capitol.

  • At the main inaugural ball Monday night in Washington, Katy Perry sang “I Kissed a Girl,” and then told the raucous crowd, “Thank you Obama for letting me sing that.” Alicia Keys performed just one tune, her hit song “Girl on Fire,” and changed the lyrics to be “Obama’s on fire.” As the evening wound down, Usher worked the crowd into a frenzy, saying, “Could you have asked for a better president?”

  • Robin Givhan takes a deep dive to explore Michelle Obama, fashion icon.

  • Heard on the Hill gets to the bottom of the Lupe Fiasco situation.

  • Twitter reported 1.1 million tweets were sent during the inaugural ceremony, with activity topping 2 million between 6 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET

  • Actress and liberal activist Ashley Judd said Saturday that she was “taking a close look” at challenging Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in 2014, telling reporters at the Kentucky Society of Washington’s Bluegrass Ball that “the people of Kentucky need a fighter.”

  • Tuesday marks the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark abortion rights decision Roe v. Wade. A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that seven in 10 Americans believe the ruling should stand.

  • Politico’s Jake Sherman reports that House Republican leaders are feeling confident about Wednesday’s vote to raise the debt ceiling without matching spending cuts.

  • Tuesday’s tidbit from NewsHour partner Face the Facts USA looks at the cost of protecting embassies abroad.

NEWSHOUR ROUNDUP

  • From dawn until dusk, the NewsHour had you covered with inaugural stories. Hari Sreenivasan captured voices from the National Mall before and after the swearing in. We posted rich slide shows from Ben’s Chili Bowl and out and about in Washington.

  • Reporter-producer Cassie M. Chew profiles the Air Force Band with a key role in the inaugural festivities.

  • Cassie also tells the story of how the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday became law. She unearthed archive footage of President Ronald Reagan making remarks, and lawmakers, including a young Biden, joining in song.

  • Paul Solman opens up about what it felt like to get hacked.

TOP TWEETS

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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

Follow the politics team on Twitter: @cbellantoni, @burlij, @elizsummers, @kpolantz, @indiefilmfan, @tiffanymullon, @dePeystah, @meenaganesan and @abbruns.