by Jules Witcover

President Obama's second inauguration address, unlike his first one urging general conciliation between the parties, signaled his intention to fight for a more progressive agenda he says was endorsed by his re-election in November.

His speech at the Capitol was more in the nature of a State of the Union address, specifically calling for legislative action on climate change, immigration reform, gun control and other areas, and prodding opponents in Congress to adopt a posture of cooperation that was so conspicuously missing in his first term.

For all its lofty allusions to the works of the founding fathers, his second inaugural was more a political call to action today on current challenges, principally domestic in nature, that in a striking way resembled the 1972 campaign cry, "Come home, America," of the recently deceased George McGovern.

While giving lip service to continuing the nation's global responsibilities, Obama pointedly observed that "enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war." Anticipating an end to armed conflict in Afghanistan, the president thus underscored his determination to turn away from the overseas adventurism of his Republican predecessor, who absented himself from the proceedings.

With a specificity uncommon for an inaugural address, Obama was alerting the Republican majority in the House that with four more years in office, he intends to play a much more assertive hand than he employed in his first term. And he took particular note of the sources of his re-election victory, citing the constituencies that played a special role in that electoral success -- women, blacks, Hispanics and gay voters.

He threw an oratorical bone to the Republicans by saying "we have never succumbed to the fiction that all society's ills can be cured through government alone." But he did not hesitate to confirm his insistence that the GOP must accept a partnership role in economic recovery that goes beyond demanding sharp budget cutting and deficit reduction.

Obama reiterated his argument that "America's prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class" and declared "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."

In a pointed jab at Republican leaders who in the 2012 campaign characterized Americans as makers and takers, the president defended the social safety net programs championed by Democrats, saying "they do not make us a nation of takers. They free us to take the risks that make this country great." The remark also was a rebuke to Mitt Romney's reference to his "47 percent of Americans" he implied were on the federal dole and hence beyond his political grasp.

In sum, the second inaugural address alerted his heretofore uncooperative foes in Congress that he intends to use his second term in more aggressive ways to achieve a specific progressive agenda, preaching togetherness while setting the course himself as best he can in the existing divided government.

The new Obama assertiveness may well turn out to be a formula for more of the same Republican obstructionism that stymied the president throughout his first term. He is clearly hoping that, by taking his case to the country campaign-style, he may break the legislative logjam.

But his second aim to put aside past partisan rancor and ideological squabbles faces an uphill battle. The immediate opposition reaction indicates little prospect the Republicans will heed his urging that "we cannot mistake absolutism for principle or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate."

The Republicans in Congress, and the public at large, will now await more specifics from the president on the second-term agenda in his State of the Union address. It is likely to be anticlimactic, in light of what he has already laid out, and still overshadowed by the continuing economic and fiscal fights little mentioned on Inauguration Day.

 

 

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