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Obama's Speech to Stress Founding Values

Obama's Speech to Stress Founding Values

By Alexis Simendinger - January 21, 2013

Four years ago during his inaugural address, Barack Obama said America’s politics and policies could bring the country together. At the moment he took the oath, he was convinced he was the president to do it. He saw himself as an emblem of healing, a leader with ambitions to tackle neglected problems head on, and an orator who could use words to inspire change.

“On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics,” he said at the Capitol in 2009. “What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them, that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply.”

Monday’s inaugural speech won’t be quite as declarative about being a repairer of the breach, to borrow a biblical allusion President Clinton included in his first inaugural address. Election results, no matter how decisive, do not by themselves settle Washington’s “worn-out” politics, and President Obama has become Exhibit A.

A number of House Republicans have sent their regrets for Monday’s ceremony, suggesting that even a moment of undeniable history cries out for Miss Manners in the Twitter age. President George W. Bush and his father, George H.W. Bush, will not attend Monday’s ceremony, citing the elder Bush’s delicate health. But Bill Clinton will be there, as will President Jimmy Carter. Even as Obama takes the spotlight on the Capitol steps, pundits will train their lenses on the VIPs, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden, beginning a 2016 guessing game as 2013 begins.

The sea of inaugural attendees will be lively, but on a chilly national holiday for Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, the pomp is likely to attract mostly activist Democrats, African-Americans and younger Obama supporters to the pedestrian-only National Mall.

With his left hand on two bibles, one used by Abraham Lincoln and the other by the Rev. King, Obama will present himself as both a unifying force and a combative warrior for American ideals embedded in his second-term agenda.

The president will have an hour to be policy-specific in his State of the Union address on Feb. 12. But in Monday’s shorter remarks, he will return to his larger complaint that Congress and the president simply must join forces to restore jobs, promote a growing economy, lower deficits, and modernize federal benefit programs. Obama will profess to be a uniter, even as he strategizes to divide House Republicans using the force of American public opinion.

He will argue that Americans’ first responsibility is to protect its children, including from gun violence. In a nation built by immigrants, Obama will say that 11 million people who are in this country illegally deserve an invitation to apply for citizenship in a reformed and reasonable system -- not just because it’s right, but also because the economy needs their labor. And as commander-in-chief, the president will say the United States seeks to stop global threats without starting new wars, and while spending less on war-making programs.

Obama sees his two addresses to the American people as something of a rhetorical diptych, according to his top aides.

“He’ll talk about those founding values and principles that have always guided our country so well. . . . It’s a hopeful speech,” White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett told RCP Sunday, using a description popular among senior Obama officials as they made the rounds of media interviews.

“He’ll talk about the opportunities ahead and how even though we may not agree on all issues with the Republicans, and both sides of the aisle, we should be able to find common ground, and . . . let’s not put our short-term political interests ahead of what’s good for our country,’” Jarrett continued.

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Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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