In Term 2, the fierce urgency of now
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He did not utter the words, but President Obama suffused his second Inaugural Address with the spirit of a favourite phrase: Martin Luther King Jr's call to heed " the fierce urgency of now".
This was a president unbound from much of what defined him four years ago, a man clearly cognizant of time already running down on his opportunity to make his imprint on the country and on history.
Gone were the vision of a new kind of high-minded politics, the constraint of a future re-election campaign and the weight of unrealistic expectations. In their place was an unapologetic argument that modern liberalism was perfectly consistent with the spirit of the founders and a notice that, with no immediate crisis facing the nation, Obama intended to use the full powers of his office for progressive values.
"We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect," he said.
After spending much of his first term "evolving" on the question of same-sex marriage and doing too little in the eyes of many African-Americans to address poverty and civil rights, he invoked "Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall" and cited responsibility for the poor, sick and displaced.
He acknowledged the budget deficit but emphasized protecting Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. He mentioned jobs but highlighted global warming.
He lauded the bravery and strength of the United States armed forces, but started his foreign policy remarks by asserting that "enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war".
Obama has always had a dialectical quality: pragmatism versus ideology, bold versus cautious, hawk versus dove, post-racial versus man of colour.
Those tensions, no doubt, no longer remain.
For the American people can no more meet the demands of today's world by acting alone than American soldiers could have met the forces of fascism or communism with muskets and militias. No single person can train all the math and science teachers we'll need to equip our children for the future... Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation, and one people.
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