During his first term, President Barack Obama disappointed some of his progressive supporters with a centrist tendency towards accommodation and compromise, only to find Republicans intransigent in opposing his every move.
Obama has learned his lessons, and in his second inaugural address last week, he made it clear that equality, inclusiveness and liberal values will be the dominant themes for his second term, showing that he intends to be a leader who will fight for the change he believes in. He began by taking his oath of office on two Bibles, one used by President Abraham Lincoln during his 1861 inauguration, and the other the traveling Bible of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Beginning his address with an extended quotation from the Declaration of Independence, Obama referred to equality as our common creed at least five times. He connected the movements for women’s rights, civil rights and gay rights to Lincoln’s efforts to free the slaves and King’s efforts to end racial segregation, becoming the first president to support, let alone mention, gay rights in an inaugural address.
“We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth” said Obama.
The first women’s rights convention was held in Seneca Falls, NY in 1848, leading to political rights for women, including the right to vote. After state troopers fired on civil rights marchers in Selma, AL in 1965, the Selma to Montgomery march followed, solidifying support for passage of the Voting Rights Act. When police raided Stonewall, a gay bar in New York City' s Greenwich Village, in 1969, patrons stood up to the harassment, sparking the key moment of the gay rights movement.
Obama, the first president to endorse same-sex marriage, went on to say, "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."
Applying his theme of equality to growing economic disparities in the U.S., Obama declared his commitment is to equality for all, not the "shrinking few and lucky" who call the rest of us simply "takers," adding, “We must be a source of hope to the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the victims of prejudice." At the same time, he told banks and insurance companies that "a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play."
Obama’s 2012 re-election was a celebration of diversity, with the votes of blacks, Hispanics and Asian Americans providing his margin of victory. His second inauguration continued this celebration, featuring a black president, Obama; a white vice-president, Joe Biden; a Hispanic female Supreme Court justice, Sonia Sotomayor, who administered the oath of office to Biden; the first woman to ever deliver an inaugural prayer, civil rights leader Myrlie Evers-Williams; a gay poet, Richard Blanco, the first Cuban-American and first openly gay person to recite a presidential inaugural poem; and a Cuban-American priest, Luis Leon, rector at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington, DC, who delivered the benediction.
Blanco's poem, “One Today,” with its theme of an inclusive American dawn, included words in Hebrew, Italian, Sanskrit and Spanish. Leon’s benediction asked for God's blessing on the president and vice president in Spanish, and he then translated it into English, saying that, with God's blessing, we can see that all of us - "whether brown, black or white, male or female, first generation immigrant American or Daughter of the American Revolution, gay or straight, rich or poor" - are made in God's image.