The president’s speech was less bold in its vision than it was astounding in its challenge to Republican values. In this era of unprecedented diversity present in the winning coalition for a presidency, Mr. Obama may have turned the tide on the rules of the game.
Yesterday’s inauguration speech by President Obama may not have been his most rousing, but it was his most moving. The president evoked the ghosts of our past, our battles to bring the taste of freedom to women, African-Americans and the gay community, in Seneca, Selma, and Stonewall. And as so many have before him, Mr. Obama appealed to the spirit of our founding to urge forward the march to equality for those whom it has yet to be realized.
But unlike most inauguration speeches, Mr. Obama laid out a progressive vision for America, in perhaps the best embodiment of the American creed by a president speaking to an audience wholly different than those crowds who have gathered there in the past.
In laying out his progressive vision, Mr. Obama continued the tradition of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who once boldly outlined a second bill of rights the country should strive to provide for all Americans. President Roosevelt went beyond vague statements of principle and presented an outlook that would drive Democrat policies.
In his second bill of rights, Mr. Roosevelt said that all Americans have a right to housing, a decent job, health care, education, social security, and an economic system that bred competition. In this era of Democratic dominance, FDR’s leadership gave practical substance to what it meant to vote for him and his party.
In a repudiation of the language of “self-reliance,” President Obama lifted the veil on the reality that one’s ability to succeed today is largely tied to who their parents are at birth. Mr. Obama said, “We do not believe that in this country, freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few.”
By contrast, the Republicans have laid out a vision where they will not fight for policies that give dignity to all Americans, but one in which they will dismantle the mechanisms of government in the hopes that all can seek dignity on their own.
Good luck with that.
In the age of Wall Street largesse gained through government policies lobbied for with vast sums of money, and a GOP which insists that failure is a consequence of liberty for which little remediation is necessary, the party has abandoned the organic substance of what it means to be a nation and the mutual responsibility we have for each other as a community.
In the GOP’s response to President Obama, Senator Mitch Daniels gave a speech that was wholly inadequate to the task of selling Republican values to the people. And in a speech in which the president said the word “we” sixty-nine times in twenty minutes, we are to believe Mr. Daniels when he says, “No feature of the Obama presidency has been sadder than its constant efforts to divide us, to curry favor with some Americans by castigating others.”
Maybe there are signs that the Republicans are starting to get it. With the push for immigration reform now being taken seriously by members of the GOP — and there are indications that a genuine effort is being made — it may be the start of a Republican Party less interested in protecting the wealth of its shrinking list of donors and more interested in winning elections.
That is yet to be seen, but a kinder and gentler party would certainly be more welcome, if only it could be properly articulated.
Stephen A. Nuño, Ph.D., NBC Latino contributor and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Politics and International Affairs at Northern Arizona University. He is currently writing a book on Republican outreach into the Latino Community.