January 22, 2013

Inaugural address: Obama issues call to tackle challenges

THE VISION: President sets a liberal agenda and seeks the public's support THE TONE: Election gave him confidence to pursue goals on his own terms

By DAN BALZ and DAVID A. FAHRENTHOLD The Washington Post

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President Obama blows a kiss as he and first lady Michelle Obama walk on Pennsylvania Avenue near the White House during the Inauguration Parade. The ceremonies included appearances by pop-culture icons, including Beyonce, who sang the national anthem.

The Associated Press

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President Barack Obama receives the oath of office from Chief Justice John Roberts as first lady Michelle Obama and his daughters Malia and Sasha listen at the ceremonial swearing-in at the U.S. Capitol on Monday.


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Obama became the first president to use the word "gay" in his inaugural address.

He talked of the Stonewall uprising, 1969 riots in New York City that were considered the spark that created the modern gay-rights movement. The Stonewall Inn was a bar made famous by a police raid.

"Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law," Obama said. "For if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well."

Not all Americans agree with these changes, and as president, Obama must attempt to speak for them and to them. But his remarks Monday suggest that he believes history is on his side on these issues.

Latinos, a key part of Obama's electoral coalition, also occupied historic roles on the program. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the daughter of Puerto Rican parents, administered the oath to Vice President Joe Biden.

Richard Blanco of Bethel, Maine, the son of Cuban exiles, read the inaugural poem. Both were the first Latinos to perform either duty, and Blanco also was the first gay person in his role.

Obama once hoped that he could overcome the united opposition of congressional Republicans -- whose militant House members set the party's tone during the battles of the past two years -- through negotiation with GOP leaders. Now he is looking to the country to pressure his opponents to compromise in ways that they would not during his first term.

Republicans have already tested the re-elected president and discovered the limits of their power. Their decision not to pick a fight -- for now -- over the debt ceiling signaled their recognition of that reality.

Republicans will have to choose their battles more carefully, and they may prevail in some cases. Obama knows that he won't get all he wants, but the balance of power at the start of his second term is far different from what it was 24 months ago.

The year ahead promises more debates over the size and scope of government, issues that dominated the past two years in Washington. Obama said the government must play a bigger role in ensuring that the middle class benefits from the nation's economic growth, after many years when middle-class wages stagnated. He argued that the country needs better railroads and highways to make it more attractive to businesses, and better schools and colleges to train students for the jobs of the future -- which often demand math and science skills.

And amid calls to impose discipline on the federal budget, he defended the value of a costly social safety net, describing it as a critical support for Americans willing "to take the risks that make this country great."

During the campaign, Obama talked about the philosophical divide between Republicans and Democrats on these issues, as he condemned the broken politics of Washington. He said the American people could break the tie with the election.

But the election returned a majority of Republicans to the House, and on Monday the president seemed to suggest that there were grounds for compromise.

"Progress," he said, "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 president's second inaugural address was notable also for what he talked about only in brief. Four years ago, he stood on the Capitol's West Front with the country facing an economic crisis. Output was falling, the stock market had plunged, many Americans were threatened with housing foreclosures, and unemployment was rising rapidly. He talked about "a sapping of confidence across our land."

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