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El País, Spain

Obama’s Courage

Politics in this post-racial society will be very different, and Obama is marking this turning point.

Translated By Stuart Taylor

23 January 2013

Edited by Kyrstie Lane

Spain - El País - Original Article (Spanish)

Although they are often filled with rhetoric, the big speeches that mark vision and values are an essential part of political leadership. Barack H. Obama’s second and last inauguration speech was less specific but deeper than the first, with a call for public and collective action, for the fight against growing and disruptive inequality and for the protection of the most vulnerable parts of the population. Obama is the first U.S. president to say the word “gay” during an inauguration, and he owed it to the community; the same goes for the various positive comments that he made about Hispanics and women. And while talking about foreign policy, his first idea was about climate change.

Of course, reality is stubborn. Global warming continues to advance, and in his first term of office Obama did little to slow it down. Guantanamo Bay prison is still open, with prisoners that will never be tried nor freed. And on the immediate horizon, he must still tackle reducing the country’s debt and cutbacks to control the fiscal deficit, initiate the promised new immigration law and move forward with legislation to limit the sale of guns. And although he has completed his promise of retreating from Iraq, U.S. troops are still stuck in Afghanistan. There the premature winner of the Nobel Peace prize seems to regret having allowed such a large military presence, although he is beginning to reduce it. Eisenhower said goodbye to the presidency of the most powerful country on Earth with a warning to prevent a “military industrial complex.” Obama was not far from this, stating more poetically that “enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war.”

For the president, “economic recovery has begun,” and they must take advantage of it in order to act without delay for a better future. It was not a question of clarifying proposals: That will come in his State of the Union address on Feb. 12. The president knows that the country must act in the first two years of his second term of office. After that, all of the attention will turn toward his potential successor.

Obama’s second inauguration emphasized the progressive values that he wishes to harmonize with a decisive appeal for unity. He is no longer searching for harmony with Republicans, however — with whom he has no option but to get along as they dominate the House of Representatives — but rather with a profoundly divided society. Hence the constant references to acting “together,” easily inspired by the saying “we the people” that opens the Constitution.

Obama knows that society has changed. African Americans are now better integrated thanks to his presence in the White House, but Hispanic people are increasingly becoming more relevant and are slowly climbing the social ladder. The Republicans’ failure to understand that fact, among others factors, cost them the election. Politics in this post-racial society will be very different, and Obama is marking this turning point.



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