Guest View: Obama's effective call for unity
President Barack Obama deftly threaded the needle in the nation's 57th inaugural address, standing his ground on core beliefs while urging this generation to not let the perfect get in the way of progress.
Relatively brief at 20 minutes, Obama managed to offer nods to his opponents and assert his determination to advance progress on climate change and immigration, issues that didn't gain traction in his first term.
Much of his address urged the nation to come together, with "common effort and common purpose, with passion and dedication."
He acknowledged that the nation will always have differences, but that those differences must not sanction delay.
In his most direct criticism of the partisan divide he said, "We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate."
Amen to those thoughts.
The 44th president's second inaugural — coinciding with the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday — presented to the nation and the world the heady symbolism of the civil rights effort that helped open the way to the nation's first black president.
Obama delivered a speech that smoothly and effectively attempted to breach some major divisions. Reminding the nation of the founding principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, he explained that "while these truths may be self-evident, they have never been self-executing."
And with that he urged Americans to accept that as times change, "so must we."
The flourish and pageantry of an inaugural is a brief and pertinent reminder of the strength of American democracy, a welcome example to other nations still struggling to reach peaceful leadership transitions.
Obama's speech offered a bold restatement of many of his priorities, including a free market with rules that ensure "fair play," and a nation that cares for the vulnerable and offers unlimited possibilities to all.
He offered a subtle but needed defense of the good that government can accomplish. In turn, he also offered nuggets to the opposition, adding that "nor have we succumbed to the fiction that all society's ills can be cured through government alone."
He reiterated support for gay rights, and protection for Social Security and Medicare. He made the case for a rising middle class, and pressed for new technology, a revamped tax code, better schools, skilled workers and broad opportunity.
Specifics will come in the State of the Union address. But the broad priorities were clearly defined. He hopes for a better America, with more opportunity for all, not just the few.
He issued a clear entreaty for Americans to demand action from Congress, not uniform agreement.
As he said: "Being true to our founding documents does not require us to agree on every contour of life; it does not mean we will all define liberty in exactly the same way, or follow the same precise path to happiness. Progress does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time - but it does require us to act in our time."
The nation is watching and hoping for debate that will not repeat the discordant recent history of budget and deficit arguments.
As an opening salvo to his new term, Obama offered a respectful agenda.
We hope lawmakers, in turn, will consider with open minds and reasonable rhetoric.