Jonathan Jones

Obama’s left-wing inaugural address

Obama’s second inaugural address was probably one of the most left-wing speeches he has made since the Democratic primaries in 2008. It hit all the liberal notes, from women’s equality to climate change and gun control to welfare. But thanks to the President’s trademark combination of poetry and weight, it didn’t come off divisive or aggressive.

That’s because Obama pegged the political positions to principles that cut across partisan divide: chief amongst them, the second sentence of the Declaration of Independence: ‘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.’ Take, for example, his call for same-sex marriage: ‘if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal, as well’.

And in the most beautifully-written section he wove that principle through the struggles for civil rights for women, African-Americans and gay people:

‘We the people declare today that the most evident of truth 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.’

The speech wasn’t just pitched on equality – home turf for the left. Throughout the speech were instances of Obama reclaiming for the left a concept that has, of late, more often been claimed by the Tea Party: freedom.

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