President Obama’s second inaugural address sounded fine. He championed almost all the causes and domestic issues that the liberal wing of the Democratic Party wanted to hear. He addressed equal rights for minorities, women, and gays; he affirmed a commitment to address climate change; he pledged to move aggressively on gun control; he reiterated the pledge to sustain a safety net for the have-nots; he recognized the need to implement effectively his healthcare program; and he appeared ready to do whatever he could accomplish by executive order, if he found the Congress lacking in its commitment to act. By design, he said virtually nothing about foreign policy except to reiterate his praise for the American military whose forces are fighting to uphold the values of this country. (Presidents know they will face international crises for many of which they can never plan.)
The speech, however, gave one pause to consider two questions. First is President Obama ready to change his modus operandi this time in his second term? Will the President now lead—his party, the Congress, and the country–or will he continue to react and play lawyer in all the internal squabbles? Much will be seen very quickly as gun control and immigration bills, among others move forward. Will the President lay out his ideas or be responsive to others? To what extent is he truly ready to take the heat?
Second, to what extent will Obama in this term waffle when confronted with mixed signals from within his own party or will he be able to bring the Democrats in line to follow him? The agenda he presented will need enormous messaging and compromise. The Republicans for the first time have already thrown him a ball on the debt ceiling and he quickly appears to have grabbed it. Will he respond now with a serious pitch on both the budget’s continuing resolution and Government’s pending sequestration? Will he move these issues quickly off the table as well, so that there can be serious attention paid to reforming of the tax code and entitlements?
The music sounded good and the poetry was fine. It was a wonderful day for the nation to step back from confrontation and feel proud. It now remains to be seen what history will make of the events over which the President will preside during the next four years. We will see very soon and then learn much more of substance in a few weeks when the President delivers his State of the Union Address.