U.S. President Barack Obama kicked off his second term today, and between the pomp and circumstance, offered a spirited defense of progressive ideals. The President used his inaugural address to champion the rationale that a social safety net encourages risk taking and entrepreneurism as well as renewing his pledge to invest in infrastructure, education, and science, and encouraging skilled workers to emigrate to the U.S.
Mr. Obama's argument was pure kitchen table politics aimed squarely at middle class families. It distills down to the economic benefits of enabling people to take risks such as starting a business or sending a child to college knowing that if all else fails they will be spared from extreme poverty and entitled to medical care.
Or, in the President's words: "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." That is fairly self explanatory, and a not so subtle take down of his opposition's (i.e. Paul Ryan's) embrace of Ayn Rand's philosophy on governance.
The President stated that it was necessary to make investments in the public sector to create the right environment for a "modern economy" to function. That was followed by an explanation that regulation is necessary because "a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play."
Those words were balanced by a validation of free enterprise, and acknowledgment of the limits of government intervention. "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," However, the President noted that individuals alone cannot meet the demands of today's world.
"No single person can train all the math and science teachers we'll need to equip our children for the future, or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores. Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation, and one people," Obama said.
Other callouts struck a familiar chord. The President reiterated that the U.S should continue to invest in sustainable energy sources, which he said would, "power new jobs and new industries." Obama also stated that addressing climate change would become a top priority of his second term in office. Failure to respond to the threat of climate change would be a betrayal of future generations, he reasoned.
Another focus of the speech was on establishing a smoother path to citizenship for foreign students that study engineering, math, and science at U.S. universities. "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," Obama said.
Obama is clearly hopeful he will be capable of achieving big things during his second term in office. His speech laid down a marker for a more progressive posture going into budget negotiations, and has been deemed by some pundits to be a bookend on former President Reagan's insistence that "government is the problem."
(image credit: Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)