Ian Boyne, Contributor
It was a glitzy and glorious Second Coming witnessed by millions around the world, with a price tag of a staggering US$124.3 million, dwarfing the $50 million raised for his First Coming inauguration. Second comings are clearly more intense - at least in the political sense.
The ceremony was rich not just in terms of money, but also in terms of irony. The progressive agenda was expounded and extolled at the ceremony, whose mandated single maximum donation skyrocketed from US$50,000 at the first inaugural to US$1 million this time. Big Oil Exxon Mobil was a big contributor. While United States President Obama proclaimed to applause that, "We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war," a Council on Foreign Relations report had just been published which showed that under peace-loving Obama, drone strikes which kill innocents, including Americans abroad, had jumped from 50 under George Bush to 350 under his presidency.
And while he observed that "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 and communism," he stunned seasoned observers of second inaugurals by saying less on foreign policy than any other president in recent memory.
But there was one thing which was unmistakable about Obama's inaugural address: He is ready to take the fight to his Republican opponents and has shed the gun-shy approach of his first term, heeding progressives and liberals who have urged him to stop cowering to right-wing Republicans.
In declaring his progressive agenda, he is not so much pushing America to Left but is following the headwinds, leaving right-wing Republicans in the dust.
"Barack Obama's second inaugural address was a declaration to Washington and the world that the Age of Reagan is over. No hands were extended to a battered Republican Party by Mr Obama. Instead, the liberal president pushed his Left-leaning agenda to a divided America," says right-wing media man Joe Scarborough in a January 22 piece in Politico.
But Obama reflects the generational and demographic shifts in America. A December 2012 Wall Street Journal/NBC poll found that a majority of Americans (55 per cent) favour same-sex marriage. An October 2012 poll found, that contrary to right-wing and fundamentalist sceptics, 67 per cent of Americans believe there is "solid evidence" of climate change, a 10-point increase since 2009.
And an ABC News/Washington Post poll released last Thursday revealed that 53 per cent view President Obama's gun-control plans favourably. So on guns, gays and global warming, Obama is mainstream. Polls show that more than 70 per cent of Americans like Obama and 52 per cent approve of his performance, while only 26 per cent approve of the Republican Party's performance, with Republican Speaker John Boehner getting only an 18 per cent job-approval rating, while the Tea party's support has plummeted to a measly nine per cent.
Obama obviously has little to worry about his opponents, and he can safely declare war on them, as he did on Monday at his inauguration. Admits Scarborough: "More troubling for Republicans is that the positions espoused in his inaugural aren't just part of the mainstream today, but will only become more enshrined in the American middle for decades of election cycles."
Conservative commentator and Newsweek contributing editor David Frum worries in his Wednesday Daily Beast article, 'Obama's Fighting Speech': "Accelerating economic recovery over the next 24 months will mean that the 2014 electorate will be less angry than the 2010 electorate. Conservatives are a political minority and are likely to remain one for some time to come. Republicans need to recognise a hard political fact, the same hard fact on which the president built his address: the party's brand identity is badly damaged."
The president could safely dismiss and discard cherished Republican positions, knowing his stance would resonate with the American people. Polls show the American people are in favour of more government services, while wanting to cut back on government waste and inefficiency. But the go-it-alone, Lone Ranger philosophy of the Republican Party is rejected by the majority of the American people - as was demonstrated in the November elections.
"Together we resolved that a great nation must care for the vulnerable and protect its people from life's worst hazards and misfortunes," Obama said in his inaugural. The philosophy of neoliberalism and its subspecies, pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps ideology was thus cast aside.
And listen to this full-throated rejection of neoliberalism and Ayn Randism: "We recognise that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us at any time may face a job loss or a sudden illness or a home swept away in a terrible storm. The commitments we make to each other through Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security ... do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers ... ."
Obama made it clear to his Republican naysayers that "we, the people, believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity" and that "a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play".
Obama defended his Keynesianism in his inaugural address and took his stand with outstanding predecessors like Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon Baines Johnson, whose respective New Deal and Great Society programmes promoted growth with a degree of equity.
FREE & EQUAL
But the journey is not complete, as was the theme of Obama's inaugural. While he drew on the Horatio Alger spirit of American capitalism and spoke eloquently that "we are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else because she is American ... she is free and she is equal," the facts now say otherwise.
The authoritative Pew survey last July showed that more than 40 per cent of Americans raised in the bottom 20 per cent remain there as adults and 70 per cent remain below the middle. Among those born in the bottom 20 per cent, only four per cent make it to the top as adults, despite the mythology of everyone's having an equal chance.
Obama, however, needs to take that same vision of equality which inspires him to fight for the rights of gays, immigrants, women, ethnic minorities, the poor - even the rights of nature - beyond America's shores. He needs to see the indivisibility of the struggle for justice and human dignit. He already has it in his vision. He just needs to be wide-eyed about it.
He said it on Monday: "Not out of mere charity, but because peace requires the constant advance of those principles that our common creed describes: opportunity, human dignity and justice ... (we) hear a (Martin Luther) King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth." If Obama truly believes that and is zealous to pursue it, though as he admitted with stoic wisdom that "today's victories will be only partial", he must make the quest for a just international economic and political order a priority of his second term.
He must be determined to leave the Middle East a more peaceful and secure place than he found it, and he must set himself the goal - however arduous to fulfil - of working towards a two-state solution to the Palestinian question. He was an abject failure in this area during his first term. Power confers responsibility, and Obama has a responsibility to protect the rights of the Palestinian people, which are under greater threat as a result of the just-concluded Israeli elections which saw the pro-settler right-wing Jewish Home faction increase its power. Netanyahu has been weakened, and this, interestingly, gives Obama greater leverage.
Yes, the right-wing has strengthened its hands in the Israeli Parliament and the party most passionate about creating a Palestinian state, the Labour Party, has been weakened badly. It will call on all of Obama's leadership skills to achieve any breakthrough in the Middle East, but he must aim high and think big. He must not succumb to American isolationism or provincialism. It does not mean he becomes the world's policeman, but he can't abdicate his responsibility as leader of the only superpower in the world.
As that most astute intellectual and Ivy League-schooled Peter Beinart wrote in a piece in The Daily Beast last Wednesday: "Netanyahu's weakness also means he'll be less able to fend Obama off if the White House unveils a peace initiative. To the contrary, the more actively engaged Obama's new foreign policy team becomes on the Palestinian issue, the shorter Netanyahu's political lifespan will be."
America must use its power to stand on the right side of history. It cannot continue to mollycoddle Israel and to turn a blind eye to its provocative new settlement policy while bankrolling that state and supplying it with arms. (I also believe the Palestinians must cooperate in the peace process and must reject absolutist positions which are politically unworkable.)
Obama must also, in his second term, continue to resist any pressure to intervene in Iran without exhausting every possible diplomatic initiative. America must not capitulate to the view of Israeli hawks that Iran is not a rational actor. The facts simply don't bear that out. America's strategy of coercive diplomacy must continue to be used, but with some nuances and greater respect for Iran's nationalistic pride. The current issue of The Washington Quarterly has some well-reasoned pieces showing the folly of the military option for Iran.
Obama must also be more engaged in international development issues. He must press for reforms in the International Monetary Fund and must use his clout to influence the restart of the development round of negotiations at the World Trade Organisation. IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde gave a remarkable speech at the World Economic Forum at Davos last week, saying, "Surely, we have all learned by now that it is no longer enough to focus on growth alone. We need all people to share in rising prosperity. This means we need more fairness in economic life, more inclusion."
Obama must put his weight behind that sentiment and must lobby for developing countries like Jamaica, struggling to find our feet in a world not favourable to our development prospects. All peoples are created equal, not just Americans, Mr President.
Ian Boyne is a veteran journalist. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.