Obama goes back for the future
Updated: 2013-01-23 02:03
By Chen Weihua in Washington (China Daily)
Free of re-election pressures, US President Barack Obama used the inauguration speech for his second term to spell out an unabashedly liberal agenda.
Obama renewed his oath of office in front of Congress in a public ceremony, which followed his and Vice-President Joseph Biden's official inaugurations on the constitutionally mandated date of Jan 20.
Turning to the half a million people that turned up on Monday, Obama promised to work to deliver equality for gay people, a more-welcoming immigration policy and policies to combat the effects of climate change. He also reaffirmed the values traditionally associated with his Democratic Party and demanded rich US citizens pay more in taxes.
"For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it ... We know that America thrives when every person can find independence and pride in their work; when the wages of honest labor liberate families from the brink of hardship."
Obama also exhibited the zeal for limited government espoused by the conservatives in Congress, but he urged pragmatism in getting things done: "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."
He said the country "must harness new ideas and technology to remake our government, revamp our tax code, reform our schools, and empower our citizens with the skills they need to work hard, learn more and reach higher".
At 19 minutes, Obama's speech was fairly brief compared to some of its predecessors, but in its echoes of the language of the US constitution and Martin Luther King Jr it found the poetic flourishes that were missing in his first inauguration speech in 2009.
"Through blood drawn by lash and blood drawn by sword, we learned that no union founded on the principles of liberty and equality could survive half-slave and half-free. We made ourselves anew, and vowed to move forward together," he said.
His words conjured the day's deeper significance. This year marks the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation ending slavery, and 50 years since the "I have a dream" speech by civil-rights legend Martin Luther King Jr.
"Together, we resolved that a great nation must care for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life's worst hazards and misfortune," he said.
In his first term, Obama and Democrats fought the Republicans over the role of government in providing for the less fortunate through social security, Medicare and other programs. The partisan political split isn't likely to subside anytime soon, especially with a debate over the government's debt limit coming next month.
"We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us, at any time, may face a job loss, or a sudden illness, or a home swept away in a terrible storm," he said.
The 2,100-word speech didn't detail any area of US foreign policy, although Obama is expected to present these policy priorities in the annual State of the Union address, set for Feb 12.
While Obama has ended the war in Iraq and is withdrawing US forces from Afghanistan, many have worries that the US could become involved in a war in the Middle East, especially against Iran if that country continues what Washington says are moves toward producing a nuclear weapon.
Some have even suggested the US could be dragged into an armed conflict between China and Japan over the Diaoyu Islands. US officials have said they regard the territorial dispute as being covered by the US' defense treaty with Japan.
However, Obama said, "We will show the courage to try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully, not because we are naive about the dangers we face, but because engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear."
Yuan Peng, an expert on US studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said Obama's Asia-Pacific strategy will enter a new stage, because he had nearly completed the strategic pivot back to Asia during his first term, including the overall military and economic layout in the region.
Guo Xiangang, a researcher on US studies at the China Institute of International Studies, said, "Obama needs to smooth ties with China and ease the current Sino-Japanese tensions caused by territorial disputes."