By Congressman Jo Bonner
Even in these highly polarized times, inaugural addresses still afford a unique opportunity for the nation’s chief executive to reset relations with the American people and reach for common ground.
The grand swearing in ceremony held on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol every four years summons nearly a million people to Washington and millions more to their television sets, offering the incoming president the greatest bully pulpit imaginable to paint his vision for the future. Unfortunately, very few unifying tones were delivered in President Obama’s second inaugural address.
I was particularly struck by the news media’s characterization of President Obama’s speech. While reliably effusive in their praise of the president, even the news outlets normally coziest with Mr. Obama cast his remarks as anything but conciliatory. The Los Angeles Times headlined: “A Sweeping Liberal Vision.” The New York Times: “Obama Offers Liberal Vision: ‘We Must Act.’”
The president’s second inaugural address not only stood out for its unvarnished honesty of his renewed agenda – which one The Washington Post blogger characterized as “The Full Liberal” – but it also got notice for its lack of attention to the country’s most pressing problems – the economy and crippling government debt.
In the president’s 2,100-word speech there was scant mention – less than 50 words – of Americans struggling to make ends meet or the sustained national unemployment levels of near eight percent more than four years into his presidency.
In contrast, a Pew Research survey released last week captured a difference picture of Americans’ concerns. “Strengthening the economy – 86 percent”, “Improving job situation – 79 percent” and “Reducing the budget deficit – 72 percent” were ranked as the country’s top priorities going into 2013. So what did the president cite in his address as the top goals for his administration’s second term? He spoke about climate change, gay marriage and immigration reform. Interestingly, these issues were ranked at the bottom of the Pew public opinion survey.
Sadly, President Obama squandered a rare moment to reach out to a vast number of Americans who profoundly disagree with his policies. He also missed an opportunity to pledge to work with Congress to jointly solve our nation’s greatest challenges.
A Gallup poll also released last week found that Mr. Obama’s fourth year in office ranks as one of the most politically polarized in history. It is, therefore, disappointing that he chose that critical moment to issue a clarion call for even more division.