Obama inaugural address a call to action

President Barack Obama’s second inaugural address won’t be remembered as the longest in American history; that honor belongs to William Henry Harrison, who died of pneumonia one month to the day after delivering his 8,460-word, 100-minute address on a cold, blustery day in 1841.

Nor will it be remembered as the shortest inaugural speech on record. George Washington holds that distinction with his terse 135-word speech at his second inauguration in 1793.

Perhaps like all but a few before him – Jefferson in 1801, Lincoln in 1865, FDR in 1933 and Kennedy in 1961 are commonly cited among the best by historians – it won’t be remembered at all.

But in recent history, it’s hard to imagine an inaugural address given at a time of greater political polarization or downright distrust between the American people and those elected to represent them.

So we doubt it was an accident that the president kept coming back to the word “together” during his 2,114-word address – completed in a un-Harrisonian 19 minutes – in his bid to set the proper tone for the next four years of his presidency.

Seven times – more than but a handful of key words or phrases – the president called on Americans to remember all that had been accomplished in the past and all that could be accomplished in the future by working “together” toward a common goal. As in:

• “We recall that what binds this nation together is not the colors of our skin or the tenets of our faith or the origins of our names. What makes us exceptional – what makes us American – is our allegiance to an idea, articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago.”

• “Through blood drawn by lash and blood drawn by sword, we learned that no union founded on the principles of liberty and equality could survive half-slave and half-free. We made ourselves anew, and vowed to move forward together.”

• “For 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 or communism with muskets and militias … Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation, and one people.”

• “My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment, and we will seize it – so long as we seize it together.”

Of course, “together” hardly was the watchword of the past four years. With rare exceptions, the Democratic president and Republican congressional leaders pursued their own separate agendas.

And that certainly was predictable once GOP leaders made it known early on that their No. 1 priority in Obama’s first term was to make sure he wouldn’t be around for a second.

Looking back, one can’t help but wonder what
good might have been achieved if politics hadn’t hijacked policy these past four years.

To the president’s point, that can no longer be an option. There are just too many critical decisions facing our elected leaders in the opening days of the 113th Congress for petty politics to get in the way of the people’s business.

The debt ceiling. Sequestration. The expiration of the resolution funding government. Unless delayed yet again, all face deadlines in the next three months.

And working together, as the president said so eloquently, is the only way those pressing issues are going to be resolved.