President Barack Obama in his second inaugural address on Monday called on the nation to come together and move past its deep political divisions while tackling the nation's most pressing issues, including economic inequality, gay rights, climate change, and immigration reform.
The president, now 51, said that he would honor the country's founding principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in his second term, but suggested that those goals remain unmet for many Americans. Obama vowed to use "collective action" to make achieving those goals a reality for those living "in our time."
"This generation of Americans has been tested by crises that steeled our resolve and proved our resilience. A decade of war is now ending. An economic recovery has begun. America's possibilities are limitless, for we possess all the qualities that this world without boundaries demands: youth and drive; diversity and openness; an endless capacity for risk and a gift for reinvention," he said on the steps of the U.S. Capitol in Washington in front of hundreds of thousands of onlookers. "My fellow Americans. We are made for this moment, and we will seize it – so long as we seize it together."
Both Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden were officially sworn in on Sunday, but both took ceremonial oaths of office on Monday right before the president laid out his ambitious vision for a second term, that includes several items that have long been on the wish lists of his supporters.
Obama, the nation's first black president, delivered his address on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and drew strong parallels between the civil rights battles of King's generation to the social issues facing today. Perhaps most notable was Obama's reference to gay rights, believed to be a first for a presidential inaugural address.
"Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law," he said. "For if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well."
The president also made a forceful statement in support of comprehensive immigration reform, a campaign pledge from 2008 that remains unfulfilled. Obama has repeatedly pledged to make it one of his top legislative priorities this year.
"Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity; until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country," he said.
The inaugural ceremonies were also filled with nods to Latinos, who played a crucial role in handing President Obama a second term. Justice Sonia Sotomayor administered the oath of office to Vice President Joe Biden, becoming the first Hispanic person to do so in the nation's history. Cuban-American poet Richard Blanco was also selected as the first Latino to recite an inaugural poem. And Rev. Luis León delivered a benediction following Obama's speech that was sprinkled with phrases in Spanish.
Biden also made a surprised stop at a Latino Inaugural Celebration at the Kennedy Center Sunday night, where he noted the rising political power of the community.
On Monday, Obama also said that he would focus his economic agenda on lifting those less fortunate out of poverty and preserving the nation's entitlement programs. He even addressed domestic concerns like climate change and voting rights. And he said he would focus his foreign policy on engaging with foreign countries and avoiding armed conflict.
But in order to accomplish many of those goals, Obama will have to bridge a partisan divide that has only deepened during his first term despite his 2008 campaign credo to usher in a new era of post-partisanship in Washington. The president faces bruising fights ahead with Republicans on issues like the debt ceiling and the federal budget deficit. And he's also likely to face resistance on big-ticket items like immigration.
The president noted that his oath is "to God and country, not party and faction" and urged lawmakers, many of whom were gathered at the Capitol, to find common ground.
"For now decisions are upon us, and we cannot afford delay. We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate. We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect. We must act, knowing that today's victories will be only partial, and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years, and forty years, and four hundred years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall," he said.