Like many others I listened to President Obama's second Inaugural Address today.
There were of some higher moments, broader themes, and an emphasis on the positive. I struggled to find 'the memorable phrase' that would be repeated and quoted in the particular. I have one or two candidates.
"We, the people, still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity. We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit. 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. For we remember the lessons of our past, when twilight years were spent in poverty, and parents of a child with a disability had nowhere to turn.There can be no denying that this speech was a strong defense of the progressive social agenda.
We do not believe that in this country, freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few. We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us, at any time, may face a job loss, or a sudden illness, or a home swept away in a terrible storm. 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.
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 snowcapped 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."
I thought that it was remarkable for some of the things it did not say.
The word 'reform' was mentioned only once, in reference to the need to 'reform our schools.'
The words 'banks, regulation, finance, financial, property, money, and fraud' were never mentioned.
The word 'crisis' was mentioned only once, in the phrase 'extend our capacity to manage crisis abroad.' Although there was a broader reference to 'crises' and an assertion of 'an economic recovery.'
"This generation of Americans has been tested by crises that steeled our resolve and proved our resilience. A decade of war is now ending. An economic recovery has begun. America's possibilities are limitless, for we possess all the qualities that this world without boundaries demands: youth and drive; diversity and openness; an endless capacity for risk and a gift for reinvention. My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment, and we will seize it - so long as we seize it together."Perhaps that last sentence will be 'the memorable phrase.' But it is a bit thin.
President Obama laid out an aggressive social agenda. It is the 'hard choices that we must make' that will determine history's view of his Presidency. He outlines some higher principles in this speech, but the proof will be in action, and will put substance into the words.