Bringing back the hope

Things are looking up, and now it’s time to move ahead. Or at least, that’s what you would have gathered from President Barack Obama’s second inaugural address.

Photo © Ghetty images.
Photo © Ghetty images.

Things are looking up, and now it’s time to move ahead. Or at least, that’s what you would have gathered from President Barack Obama’s second inaugural address.

The contrast between his address four years ago and the one he made on Monday is stark. His first inaugural address focused on assuring us that we would get on the road to recovery, but it wouldn’t be easy. He talked about energy reform, strengthening the economy and expanding health care, but he made it clear that we were going to have to brace ourselves and work together.

Obama’s first address was harsher, but the tone of his second address made it sound like we were in the clear. He said that the economy is recovering, the war is over and it’s time to take action and enact reform. Where his first speech focused on recovery, Obama now talked about growth and progress. It was everything I’d been hoping for the past four years.

He actually sounded like a progressive for the first time in years. He talked about gay rights, gender equality, allowing illegal immigrants to work, climate change and rewriting the tax code. It was a breath of fresh air after the more subdued Obama of election season. More importantly, it went back to the roots of what he originally ran on: hope.

It was encouraging to know that the president thought the worst was over and that he wanted to focus on progress and reform. I’m not sure I agree with him that the economy has recovered, but this new focus on progress is inspiring and more than welcome. Comparing the two speeches was still interesting; we certainly haven’t come as far as we might have.

Toward the end of the first inaugural address Obama said, “We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age.” Boy, did that not work out.

We haven’t made significant gains on renewable energy since 2009. There are lots of new projects here and there, but our use of fossil fuels has increased overall. There hasn’t been any kind of nationwide commitment to using more renewable energies. Our education system hasn’t improved dramatically, either. We might have better test scores, but college is still a huge source of debt and K–12 public education is still massively underfunded.

As much as I love Obama’s optimism and return to progressivism, the recovery process is simply not over. He talked about improving things as if they were already good, but that’s still not the case. We’ve come a long ways, but we have a long ways left.

Despite that, I love Obama’s new focus. During his previous term some important social issues went unaddressed in the face of our crappy economy, and it sounds like they’re finally getting the attention they deserve. I’ve always hoped that Obama would be more courageous and willing to tackle these issues in his second term (when a desire for reelection wasn’t holding him back). If his inaugural address is a gauge of the next term, my wish is going to come true.

I feel pretty good going into 2013 and Obama’s second term. I have hope that our nation will benefit from a president who doesn’t have to worry so much about his approval rating. I have faith that the reforms we need are truly going to be priorities, and the last four years of work the president put in will result in the kind of change we were promised in 2008.