It may have been his inaugural address, but President Obama essentially gave a civil rights speech on Monday. And why not? It was also an official federal holiday to celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., one of the greatest civil rights leaders in American history, so why not seize the moment?
But it was more than the holiday that Obama decided to seize on Monday, it was the opportunity to lay down the gauntlet on a new term in office.
Judging by his speech, Obama is gearing up for an aggressive four more years in office. This time around, it looks as if he means business.
We first noticed a more assertive Obama before the inauguration. As the fiscal cliff approached, he looked to be much more in command than he did a little more than a year ago when Congress created a crisis over raising the nation’s debt ceiling. Moreover, we saw a determined President react to the Newtown, Conn., massacre. Indeed, he’s turning into a stronger leader — and an unabashed progressive.
In Monday’s address, he declared that gender equality, gay rights and immigration laws are today’s civil rights issues, and that he would not be silent about them. And he didn’t stop there. He also spoke about climate change, reasonable gun controls and many other hot-topic issues. Responding substantively and effectively to these matters have been first-term shortcomings, but he seems to realize that he’ll have no greater opportunity than now to take on these issues in a way that matters.
Congress will likely be his greatest combatant when it comes to global warming and immigration reform, and Obama must be prepared to compromise with reasonable minds.
But when it comes to unreasonable minds — those who, in Obama’s inaugural words, mistake “absolutism for principle” — he simply needs to move on without them.
Already he’s taking on gun control with a combination of legislative proposals and executive orders — an approach that may prove effective on a variety of other issues during his second term.
Maybe Obama is thinking that he was pushed around too much in his first term, and now it’s time to exercise some presidential muscle. If that’s what he is thinking, he’s probably right.
His second term, more than his first, will be his moment in history.
But more than history, it’s about the future. The next four years will define it for generations to come. We hope the President steps up with the leadership needed.