WASHINGTON – US President Barack Obama stressed his commitment to engagement and spoke of supporting democracy in the Middle East, during his second inaugural address on Monday.
Before a crowd of some 1,600 political leaders and dignitaries, and hundreds of thousands of members of the public, Obama also repeatedly turned to the principles of the Declaration of Independence to push forward his progressive agenda for his second and final term.
While Obama spoke of national unity, he did not speak of compromise.
Instead, he enumerated his priorities on controversial issues such as climate change, entitlement programs and gay rights for his remaining time in office.
Obama spoke only briefly and generally about foreign and national security policy, focusing on forging and extending peace.
“We will show the courage to try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully – not because we are naïve about the dangers we face, but because engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear,” he said to applause from the public that packed the Mall in front of the US Capitol.
He also pledged to “defend our people and uphold our values through strength of arms and rule of law.”
Obama declared that “America will remain the anchor of strong alliances in every corner of the globe,” and would “renew those institutions that extend our capacity to manage crisis abroad.”
In his sole reference to foreign lands, he said the United States would support democracy in Asia, Africa, the Americas and the Middle East, “because our interests and our conscience compel us to act on behalf of those who long for freedom.”
Repeating the first three words of the preamble of the US Constitution, as he did several times during the speech, Obama earned applause when he told the crowd that “We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war,” and also that “a decade of war is now ending.”
He suggested that development gave America opportunities to pursue new paths to prosperity and innovation.
Obama’s speech also embraced diversity, explicitly linking gay rights with the civil rights and women’s suffrage movements and emphasizing the importance of immigration to American society.
“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,” he said.
And in beginning his address, he emphasized that “what binds this nation together is not the colors of our skin or the tenets of our faith or the origins of our names.”
Instead, he pointed to the shared embrace of the Declaration of Independence’s commitment to equal rights for all people.
Both Obama and Vice President Joe Biden took the oath of office before the president’s inaugural address, though the oaths were symbolic in nature since they had officially been recited in private the day before. The US Constitution requires that the swearings-in take place on January 20, but since that date fell on Sunday, the public ceremony was held Monday.
The inauguration also coincided with Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, giving the ceremony extra poignancy. Myrlie Evers- Williams, a former leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and wife of slain civil rights leader Medger Evers, delivered the invocation.
The festivities also included several patriotic pieces of music and a poem written for the occasion by inaugural poet Richard Blanco.
Blanco’s piece added a touch of Hebrew to the event, describing, as it did, the many different ways neighbors greet each other in America, including howdy, buenos dias, namaste and shalom. •