‘Seneca Falls, and Selma and Stonewall’

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.

(White House photo by Sonya N. Hebert)

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!)

 

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Just when I think the Repubs have hit the depths of the well of shamelessness, they prove they can always find more.

    It’s a rather eerie thought that Republicans have accidentally discovered the weird mathematical property that infinity plus one is still infinity.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Joe Biden, age be damned, should run in 2016. :D

  • Lori

    In what sense is bringing up Stonewall Jackson in the context of an anti-MLK holiday, “You have your holiday, why can’t we have ours?”  attitude not Lost Cause revisionism? If one doesn’t believe in Lost Cause then why would Stonewall Jackson be the choice for “ours”?

  • Carstonio

    One doesn’t have to be a neo-Confederate to believe in that type of racism. I suspect that many of these folks aren’t that knowledgeable about Stonewall Jackson, and just think they’re having a laugh at the expense of “uppity” blacks like Obama. Fifty years ago, the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia symbolized resistance to desegregation and civil rights. Today, it symbolizes a more generalized racism that defines Southern or rural culture in exclusionary terms. You know how many fundamentalists like to think that atheists are simply offended by the name God? The people I’m talking about probably believe that only a black person or a big-city liberal elitist would be offended by invoking Jackson’s name that way.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    Would be better to find an aspect of hypocrisy he has engaged in which his audience would dislike.

    I would love to.  Shaming him is more my goal than physical harm. To the extent that I want to physically harm him it is because his sense of machismo suggests he would be embarrassed by getting beaten by a “sissy” in front of people he tries to seem “above”.  

    Unfortunately, authoritarian followers show a damnable resistance to being exposed to the hypocrisy of their leaders.  Every idea exists independent of every other in their minds, so they never meet in a way which produces conflict that could be identified as hypocrisy, and a lack of self-reflection and surplus of external validation ensures that they stay this way.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    It’s a rather eerie thought that Republicans have accidentally discovered the weird mathematical property that infinity plus one is still infinity.

    I believe that is known as “Aleph One” in set-theory.  

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    You know how many fundamentalists like to think that atheists are simply offended by the name God? The people I’m talking about probably believe that only a black person or a big-city liberal elitist would be offended by invoking Jackson’s name that way.

    I am offended, not by the name, but by their obvious crass insensitivity.  

  • DorothyD

    “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.”

    Or repeating it as close as they can get while still being technically correct. (Warning: That’s another Townhall blogger.)

    And here’s what really happened: God at the Inauguration.

  • AnonymousSam

    In other news, Fox News comes close to saying what they really think: http://quietube4.com/v.php/http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XKxN1j3mgRc

    (Link has been quiettube’d because the comments section is worse than usual. Imagine that.)

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     Not exactly. Aleph One is the infinity you get if you take a a number like 2 and raise it to the power of the ordinary sort of infinity. Normal infinity, Aleph Null, is the kind of infinity that integers are. There are infinitely many of them, but you could come up with a system to give each one a distinct name.  And if you pick a starting point and an ending point, you could count all the integers in the middle without missing any, and that would be a finite number (This bit here is an oversimplification).  Aleph One is the  kind of infinity that real numbers are — you can’t do the same kind of counting thing with real numbers, because there are an infinite number of distinct decimal values between any two.

    (There’s a neat bit at the end of the Atlantis arc in Yu-gi-oh where the Pharaoh defeats a monster with infinity hitpoints by setting up an aleph-one attack. Not as good as the Flying Castle Catapult Turtle Gambit, but pretty neat.)

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/ZNNUWEXUPQUQAYGBFDHTEIJBUI Joshua

    Kind of reminds me of the whole “act of terror” vs. “terrorist act” flap in the aftermath of the Benghazi attacks. They were trying to make this huge deal about Obama was afraid to call terrorists out on their terrorist attacks, and they ended up sounding even more ridiculous than usual when they couldn’t articulate the difference between the two terms. 

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     I’m surprised he didn’t hold his own private inauguration.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    I’m surprised he didn’t hold his own private inauguration.

    But he almost crashed the real one.  ;p

  • Beroli

     He really does seem to be under the impression that acting petulantly like he’s been denied something he was entitled to is going to have some kind of positive effect for him, doesn’t he?

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Is it a bad thing when the Onion manages to satirize reality just enough to make you wonder if it actually happened?

  • BaseDeltaZero

    ‘Embedding has been disabled by request.  Watch on Youtube.’

    :P

  • AnonymousSam

    Huh, it works for me. Well, the direct link then: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XKxN1j3mgRc

  • Ttricksterson

    I would guess that the implication is that we are nothing but blank slates upon which God writes.

  • Ttricksterson

    David Smith has a point although not, I’m sure the one he wants people to think he has.  Sexual Identity is not a “right” anymore than being blond or short is a “right”.  It’s simply part of one one is.  The rights part is is not being prejudiced against in law by being blond, short, gay etc.

  • BaseDeltaZero

    Actually, my guess would be that it’s supposed to be the ‘before’ state.  Without Christ we are lost and without identity, so come to church and *don’t* be like this.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    Is it a bad thing when the Onion manages to satirize reality just enough to make you wonder if it actually happened?

    Something that happens with increasing frequency these days.  For example, the events in this report are obviously parody, but given how much vitriol has been coming from some pundits and protesters on the right, it seems like an accurate description of their conception of him.

    What does it say about their sense of reality that obvious parody is indistinguishable?  

  • AnonymousSam

    Isn’t that called Poe’s Quandary or some such?

  • http://inquisitiveravn.livejournal.com/ Inquisitive Raven
  • KevinC

     The first commentator (Eric Chamberlain) in the comments for that article wins the thread:

    Mr. Smith, that’s not a thumb in your eye, it’s a plank.

    Mr Smith, that’s not a thumb in your eye, it is a plank.
    Mr Smith, that’s not a thumb in your eye, it is a plank.
    Mr Smith, that’s not a thumb in your eye, it is a plank.

  • KevinC

     Wha?  Thank you Disqus  for…whatever that was.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    Buses and bus shelters here in Seattle are plastered with posters advertising an upcoming series of talks by Mark Driscoll on “finding your identity in Christ”.  The picture is of a man holding a blank white piece of paper in front of his face.

    Okay, I saw one of those on the side of a bus last night.  I guess I never noticed them before because they were just so… bland, blending into the background so I filtered them out.  I guess I only noticed because I was standing at the Bellevue Transit Center bus stop with nothing else to do but look around, and because Mars Hill’s actual church building was only a block away and I had passed it a few minutes prior so it was on my mind a bit.  

    The message in the center of the billboard was something like “Do you know who you are?”  I wanted to tell ask Driscoll if he know who he was, because I am not sure he is aware that who he is, is actually a colossal douche bag.  

  • Consumer Unit 5012

     Is it a bad thing when the Onion manages to satirize reality just enough to make you wonder if it actually happened?

    Yes.

    Unfortunately, ‘reality’ has become so grotesque that it now takes every bit of creativity the Onion’s writers have to try and stay out in front of it.


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