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Barack Obama Charts an Arc of History That Bends Toward Justice

By       Message John Nichols     Permalink
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"For we remember the lessons of our past, when twilight years were spent in poverty and parents of a child with a disability had nowhere to turn. We do not believe that in this country freedom is reserved for the lucky or happiness for the few. We recognize 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, these things do not sap our initiative.

"They strengthen us.

"They do not make us a nation of takers. They free us to take the risks that make this country great."

That last line referenced the "makers versus takers" language of Congressional Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican who as his party's presidential nominee suggested that the 2012 election was in many senses a battle between an imagined majority and a dismissed 47 percent.

As it happened, Ryan and Mitt Romney won just 47 percent of the vote on November 6. Barack Obama and Joe Biden won 51 percent, and with it a mandate that Obama seems willing finally to embrace. The Barack Obama who began his first term as a remarkably popular figure who seemed almost overwhelmed by the challenges left over from the failed president of George W. Bush begins his second term as a confident leader who knows well that he made mistakes of strategy and position in his first term and who is determined this time to chart a different course.

Will Obama disappoint in this second term? Yes. Will he need to be poked and prodded, chastised and challenged by Americans who demand that the progressive language of his inaugural address be -- in Obama's words -- "made real"? Absolutely. More so now than ever.

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But with this inaugural address President Obama has offered an indication that he heard the American people on November 6. They were not re-electing him merely because they liked him as a man. They were re-electing him to dispense with the fantasy -- entertained not just by Republicans but by too many Democrats -- that "freedom is reserved for the lucky or happiness for the few." And to complete the journey from Seneca Falls to Selma to Stonewall and to the place of economic justice where every citizen has that basic measure of security and dignity that can and must be America's promise.

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John Nichols, a pioneering political blogger, has written the Online Beat since 1999. His posts have been circulated internationally, quoted in numerous books and mentioned in debates on the floor of Congress.

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