In a speech built around the Declaration of Independence, there was, despite little mention of independent business owners, an affirmation of America's need to innovate in a global economy and to invest in young people as the nation's future. Today, in his second inaugural address, President Barack Obama told a crowd of many thousands that American enterprise flourishes in a just society.
Four years ago, in Obama's first inaugural address, he praised entrepreneurial effort, saying "it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things ... who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom."
Today's speech emphasized instead the need for a social safety net as a ground for business activity. Programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, he said, "do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great."
Obama did, however, single out for celebration an American work ethic of "initiative and enterprise" involving "hard work and personal responsibility."
"We [have not] succumbed to the fiction that all society's ills can be cured through government alone," he said. He enumerated the qualities that make America fit to thrive in a globalized world: "youth and drive; diversity and openness; an endless capacity for risk and a gift for reinvention."
The president devoted the lion's share of his speech to his vision for a society in which equality and security are paramount, in which children are "always safe from harm." He also spoke out strongly against climate change and in favor of gay rights, two issues which did not receive much air time during his recent campaign.
Speaking as if to critics, Obama admitted that Americans "must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of healthcare and the size of our deficit," while denying that such action would require sacrifices either for older generations or for the young. He also suggested revamping the tax code.
The enduring purpose of his presidency, he said, is "a nation that rewards the effort and determination of every single American."