So the theme of the inaugural speech was that words are not enough, that they must be matched with deeds. The capstone of the speech was this:
That is our generation’s task – to make these words, these rights, these values – of Life, and Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness – real for every American….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.
For now decisions are upon us, and we cannot afford delay.
It’s a good general goal. The rising generation will, in all likelihood, be the one that brings equality to everyone. There are ghettos to empty and pay to be raised. There are pernicious laws to repeal, and pernicious behavior to be shamed away. But this is a generation which has never known Jim Crow or legalized discrimination against women. It may have seen shrinking opportunity, but the pain has been broadly borne. The question will be what energies this speech mobilizes.
Here are key excerpts.
history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they have never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth
Our history represents a learning process:
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.
The American system is one of balance and moderation, emphasizing individualism:
we have never relinquished our skepticism of central authority, nor have we succumbed to the fiction that all society’s ills can be cured through government alone. Our celebration of initiative and enterprise; our insistence on hard work and personal responsibility, are constants in our character.
We need to change direction, away from war and economic stagnation:
A decade of war is now ending. An economic recovery has begun. America’s possibilities are limitless,
More people have to start receiving the economic rewards:
our purpose endures: a nation that rewards the effort and determination of every single American. That is what this moment requires. That is what will give real meaning to our creed.
A laundry list of common commitments:
Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security…[protection against] job loss, or a sudden illness, or …storm…the threat of climate change…sustainable energy sources…strength of arms and rule of law…we must be a source of hope to the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the victims of prejudice [outside our borders]…[equal pay for women, equal treatment under the law for gays, freedom to vote, gun safety, and a welcoming attitude toward immigrants]
And the call:
Let each of us now embrace, with solemn duty and awesome joy, what is our lasting birthright. With common effort and common purpose, with passion and dedication, let us answer the call of history, and carry into an uncertain future that precious light of freedom.
Will that be enough to shape the response? I don’t know. I wish he had focused on the filibuster. That probably would have been impolitic, but it is such a potent force for reaction that any call to build a new era must begin with the burying of the old, corrupt, rotten, evil one.