President Obama’s address today looked back to the campaign and ahead to the State of the Union speech and beyond.
He gave a clear exposition of his governing philosophy, rooted in his interpretation of our nation's purpose. What binds us, he told us, is an “allegiance to an idea,” that we are all created equal and possess God-given rights to freedom. But, the president reminded us, these founding truths may be self-evident, but they are not “self-executing.” We the people, acting through our democracy, must strive to improve them in a “never-ending journey.”
The president seemed to enjoy the opportunity to repackage his campaign themes is loftier prose than 30-second ads would allow. Our Founders, he noted, didn't trade the tyranny of a king for the “privileges of the few.” Nor are we a “nation of takers,” as Mitt Romney painted us; rather prosperity must rest on the “broad shoulders of the middle-class.” And in a comment that almost seemed like further clarification of the president's infamous “didn't build that” comment, he said that to ensure individual freedom and prosperity, “we must act collectively.”
Finally, the president touched on campaign hot-button issues as equality for women, marriage equality for gays and support for immigrants, wrapping these rights in the succinct philosophy that we must be all be equal, “not just in the eyes of God but in our own.”
Obama looked ahead in his speech to policy fights on entitlements and gun control, and he made clear once again that he is in an uncompromising mood on these subjects. Perhaps his most surprising policy riff was on climate change, where he once again signaled that combating it will be a second-term priority. In fact, the president spent more time on that topic than on any other specific issue; it will be interesting to see its billing in February’s State of the Union address.
As the president summarized, “our journey is not complete.” Indeed, it is not, and, politically, it's about to get bumpy.