Here’s a link to a complete transcript of President Barack Obama’s second inaugural address.
For me, this bit was the crescendo and highlight of the speech:
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. It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began. 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. 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; until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country. Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for, and cherished, and always safe from harm.
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. Being true to our founding documents does not require us to agree on every contour of life; it does not mean we will all define liberty in exactly the same way, or follow the same precise path to happiness. 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. We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate. We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect. We must act, knowing that today’s victories will be only partial, and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years, and forty years, and four hundred years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall.
Wow. “Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall” struck me as historic. I heard that and expected those allusive, alliterative references to be left to stand alone, but then Obama went on to make a more specific and explicit endorsement of the continuing struggle for the rights pursued by the unruly patriots of Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall.
I was also very pleased to hear this surprisingly blunt section on climate change:
We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries – we must claim its promise. That is how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure – our forests and waterways; our croplands and snow-capped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.
That language on climate change will be tested, over time, to see if it is more than only language. Same with the bit that followed it, a welcome rejection of the idea of “perpetual war”:
We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war. Our brave men and women in uniform, tempered by the flames of battle, are unmatched in skill and courage. Our citizens, seared by the memory of those we have lost, know too well the price that is paid for liberty. The knowledge of their sacrifice will keep us forever vigilant against those who would do us harm. But we are also heirs to those who won the peace and not just the war, who turned sworn enemies into the surest of friends, and we must carry those lessons into this time as well.
We will defend our people and uphold our values through strength of arms and rule of law. 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.
Odd coincidence: During the massive protest marches before the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq, I carried a sign that read, “Engagement Can More Durably Lift Suspicion and Fear.”
And my friends told me it would never catch on as a slogan.
It was also good to hear Obama’s forceful and clear endorsements of the common good and the programs that embody our commitment to it — Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, infrastructure, education.
One final note from this speech, which began with this:
We recall 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. What makes us exceptional – what makes us American – is our allegiance to an idea, articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Obama isn’t saying anything original there, but he’s embodying it in a way that no previous president has. He latches on to that sweepingly inclusive first-person plural “we” and employs it throughout the rest of the speech — more than 70 times.
But let me just note that this was the umpteen-hundredth time we’ve heard President Obama recite that passage from the Declaration of Independence. It’s a familiar passage from all of his stump speeches, his addresses to Congress, and nearly every big-occasion speech he ever gives — all of which were public and remain in the public record. Presidents do not give covert speeches.
And yet, for four years now, we’ve heard a constant stream of white evangelicals repeating the zombie lie that Obama never says what he always says — that he never says what he just said, yet again, before the entire world in a live television broadcast. Despite the frequent, documented and very public nature of the president’s many, many recitations of this passage, numerous white evangelicals still claim that Obama always omits the Declaration’s reference to “their Creator” when reciting this passage. He does not, but that doesn’t stop them from repeating the claim.
Even now, just hours after Obama quoted the full passage again in the most public forum imaginable, some white evangelical leader somewhere — Tony Perkins, Bryan Fischer, James Dobson, Charisma magazine — is preparing to assert, yet again, the nonsensical lie that Obama never says what we all just again heard him say.
It’s a particularly weird lie, given that the president is so enamored of this passage and repeats it so often and so publicly. But when all you’ve got are weird and obvious lies I guess you have to make peace with accepting your role as weird and obvious liars. (Hi there, Mark Driscoll!)