President Obama was inaugurated for a second term, and hinted at some of his top policy priorities in his speech. PHOTO: Reuters
President Obama was inaugurated for a second term and his inauguration speech mixed the standard pomp and circumstance with a number of fairly specific policy positions that give us an outline for what the President will pursue in his second term. Obama gave a general defense for all of his core political ideas: infrastructure spending, equality for women and gays, gun reform, education spending and more, but there were three pieces of policy that emerged in the inauguration speech that we can expect to get special attention going forward.
1. Immigration. He didn’t get to it first in the “policy” section of his inauguration speech, but it is widely believed that immigration is tops on the list for Obama’s second term, in much the way that healthcare reform was for his first. The ideals of Obama’s immigration push were all over the beginning of the inauguration speech:
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.
Later, Obama gave immigration another mention, and invoked both the easy and the hard part for the coming policy discussion. Easy: letting foreign students who come here to get a degree stick around once they have it. Hard: creating a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants already here, and for those who otherwise would immigrate illegally. Obama will want to do those together. Republicans will try to split the two issues so they can reject the second part.
2. Climate Change! Climate change gets an exclamation point, because this one is voluntary. Immigration and gun reform were bumped to the top of the agenda by events, climate change is Obama owning up to what I would call the most solemn responsibility for modern governments: slowing the rate at which humans are reshaping the globe. The climate change moment was the most combative in Obama’s inauguration speech:
We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries – we must claim its promise.
Obama makes both an appeal to our longterm survival needs, and to his “win the future” idea that he tried a couple of State of the Union speeches ago: we know which industries will dominate the next few decades, so let’s get started now.
3. Cut defense, preserve entitlements: The sequester cuts are coming, these are automatic cuts, half to defense and half to “entitlement programs” such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Obama made sure in his inauguration speech to give a rousing defense of the latter, while pointing out that “lasting peace and enduring security do not require perpetual war.” They do, however, require perpetual healthcare:
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.
The “nation of takers” line jabs once again at the Romney 47% line. Romney is gone from politics, but the sentiment that destroyed him lives on, and there is still plenty of political hay to be made there. Obama’s victory over Romney gives him plenty of political momentum, and look for him to keep the ratio of spending cuts (half military, half entitlements) intact as negotiations progress on the sequester cuts.