When considering how mundane and uninspiring most second inaugural addresses are, President Barack Obama’s address Monday was surprising in its ambition and scope.
Obama, who seems relieved to never have to run for office again, delivered a passionate defense of liberal ideals and laid out a broad second-term agenda that includes immigration reform, gun control, tackling climate change and standing up for gay rights.
His defense of gay marriage was especially important. Obama was the first president to ever bring up the topic in an inaugural address, and by equating gay rights activists with the civil rights activists of the 1960s, he gave the biggest social issue of our time the attention it deserves.
Realistically, though, the president has roughly a year and a half to achieve what he wants to domestically. After that, congressional lawmakers will be consumed with the 2014 midterm elections before the 2016 presidential election makes Obama a lame duck.
Ultimately, with Republicans still in control of the House of Representatives, that means Obama will be lucky to get much of his agenda made law. He will have to choose which issues are of most importance to him and invest all his political capital into them.
Although he barely touched on it in his speech, Obama needs to make sure economic recovery is still his top priority.
Don’t get us wrong, issues like gun control, climate change and immigration reform are important and should be debated, but the economy should be first and foremost. There are still plenty of families struggling to pay the electric bill or worrying how to pay for their child’s college tuition. When money is tight and people are struggling to find jobs, people care about the economy.
The economy is improving, slowly but surely, and the president deserves some of the credit for that. But, it’s not enough.
All ideas should be on the table right now. Every other issue Obama hopes to tackle, including the shaping of his legacy, largely hinges on the economic recovery.
That being said, simply avoiding the artificial crises Congress imposes on itself would be helpful in ensuring the markets remain stable and grow. The last thing we need at this moment is another fiscal cliff crisis.