A day after his official swearing in, which took place Sunday afternoon at the White House, Obama addressed the crowd outside the U.S. Capitol, encouraging harmony within a nation fiercely divided by politics.
“We are made for this moment, and we will seize it — so long as we seize it together,” Obama, who Monday became the 17th president to deliver a second inaugural address, said, according to media reports. “The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few or the rule of a mob. They gave to us a republic, a government of, and by, and for the people. Entrusting each generation to keep safe our founding creed. And for more than 200 years we have.”
While much of Obama’s speech urged cooperation within the nation, the 44th president of the United States also discussed several divisive issues facing the country, including gun control, gay rights and climate change.
Despite Obama’s encouragement of increased camaraderie, some Franklin County-area residents said they fear such a goal is unreachable. Several residents took to social media Monday after the president’s address, sharing their opinions on the state of the nation and whether the U.S. can come together.
“I don’t see compromise in either side,” Robbie Cardell wrote. “The logic seems to be as illogical, and as far from the public needs, as possible! Both parties are too blinded by their own path of greed and hate to see the forest much less the trees.”
As some in the discussion argued that the nation’s polarized political landscape will continue to grow worse, others questioned Washington’s leadership. On the same forum, Rebecca Schmoe stated that the nation’s political leaders need to be more reliable and attuned to the needs of those whom they represent.
“Our nation needs true leadership — the kind that accepts responsibility and accountability for their words and actions,” Schmoe said on the forum. “What we have now are self-inflated figureheads who cast blame, lie and refuse to represent any constituents who disagree with the lobbyists who fund their lifestyles of the rich and famous. This goes for modern politicians as a whole, it is not limited to, nor does it exclude the current president.”
Frequently, Richards said, Obama will entreat others to reach compromise, but is unwilling himself to cooperate.
“This is the same person that told us that he was no longer going to negotiate,” Richards said of Obama. “I hope [Obama’s] being truthful, and that he wants there to be some cooperation. But if both sides say they’re not giving on anything, that includes his side, too.”
In his recent remarks regarding climate change, Obama arguably took his most pointed stance on the issue, for which he failed to win passage of legislation to reduce emissions in his first term.
“We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that failure to do so would betray our children and future generations,” Obama, who now likely will work within his own administration to draft carbon emission laws, said. “Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms.”
Discussing such topics came as a delight to Caren Rugg, vice-chair of the Franklin County Democratic Party, who was watching the inaugural festivities Monday.
“I was very pleased to hear the words ‘climate change’ mentioned,” Rugg said of Obama’s inaugural address. “I think it’s a good thing, but I think that it’s going to be very difficult to get bipartisan support because too many people are wrapped up in the business of oil.”
Within his address, Obama also alluded to the disparate levels of wealth in the U.S., noting that the nation’s success depends on a strong middle class.
“For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it,” Obama said. “We believe that America’s prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class. We know that America thrives when every person can find independence and pride in their work; when the wages of honest labor liberate families from the brink of hardship.”
While Congress remains hotly divided, a recent poll indicates most Americans perceive less conflict between groups than before the schismatic presidential campaign began. In the survey, the PEW Research Center found that “58 percent of adults say there are ‘very strong’ or ‘strong’ conflicts in our society between the rich and the poor, down from the 66 percent who said the same in a December 2011 survey.” In addition, the survey said 55 percent of adults say there are strong conflicts between immigrants and the native born, down from 62 percent in 2011.
In recognizing Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the Civil Rights leader’s legacy, Obama said the United States’ journey remains unfinished “until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. ... [And] until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law.”
While he said he agrees with equality under the law, Richards said he still is opposed to gay marriage.
“I think that everyone should be treated equal under the law,” Richards said. “But if what [Obama] is saying is that gay marriage should be something that’s accepted on a nationwide scale, then I would disagree with that.”
Obama’s commitment to ensuring equality, however, is fulfilling parts of the Declaration of Independence that the nation is obligated to provide, Rugg said.
“[Obama] recited at the beginning that ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men and women are created equal,’ and if we are going to say those words, we have to live them,” Rugg said. “I think that was incredibly poignant to have the first African American president having his second inauguration on the day when we recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Because without [King] there may not be Obama in the office.”