Some conservatives had feared for months, even years, that President Obama would wait till after he was reelected to unmask his a true political identity. Well, with his second inaugural address Monday, he finally showed them: Obama is a center leftist. In a speech that was a little aggressive, but steeped in familiar patriotic refrains, Obama shot down the conservative idea of "makers vs. takers," he talked about "collective action," he mentioned Stonewall, a gay bar where a police raid in 1969 sparked the gay-rights movement in the same breath as the women's rights convention at Seneca Falls and the civil-rights marches from Selma.
While the 57th Inauguration Day dawned with cries of disappointment over Obama's legacy, conservatives have been pushing their "just wait" meme for years. In March 2012, for instance, after Obama was caught on a hot microphone telling Russian president Dmitri Medvedev that he'd have more flexibility after the election, the Heritage Foundation's Mike Gonzalez wrote, "Here, in essence, is what it appears to be: this was our commander in chief in league with an anti-American autocrat to dupe the American public until after it’s too late." Last October, Tom Barrett wrote on ConservativeTruth.com, "Even though Obama was able to restrain himself in many areas in his first term, just wait until you see how he acts if he is re-elected. As the saying goes, 'You ain’t seen nuthin’ yet!'" The theme of the conservative documentary Obama's America: 2016 is, according to The Washington Post's Dan Zak's explanation:
...[Obama] is waiting until his second term to implement the anti-colonialist policies of his father, his fellow activists and his professors by stripping wealth from the upper classes, bankrupting the country so it can be remade into a socialist state, depleting America’s nuclear warheads and permitting a “United States of Islam” to align between Morocco and Pakistan and squelch Israel.
The points Obama made in his second inaugural were hardly radical. Lupe Fiasco and other disaffected leftists will continue to have plenty of reasons to feel betrayed by the first black president. But, on Monday, Obama's change in tone felt like a revelation of Obama's true political self, untethered from ever having to run in an election again. He was clearly aware that this was his last inauguration -- as he was leaving, he paused at the top of the steps, turned toward the crowd, and said, "I want to look out one more time because I'll never see this again." In his speech, he mentioned technology twice, arguing for more investment. He said the country still has a ways to go before it reaches full equality for all people. He made the case for a social safety net. He... thinks both government and free enterprise are important parts of the national economy. Obama said:
Through it all, 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... But we have always understood that when times change, so must we; that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action.
He called for infrastructure spending:
We 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 harder, learn more, and reach higher.
He implied we shouldn't cut Social Security or Pell grants:
But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future.
And he rejected the idea, once used by Paul Ryan in speeches and Mitt Romney in a secretly recorded video, that the country is divided between makers and takers:
The commitments we make to each other – through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security – these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.
And he suggested taking care of poor people not just out of pity:
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.
And he argued for greater equality in America:
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. ...
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. Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.