President Barack Obama’s inaugural address could easily have been a piece of conventional Left-leaning boilerplate. Instead, he apparently wanted to make the case of his governing vision in the least predictable way possible – namely, by tying it to the favorite weapon of his critics, the United States Constitution.
In the very first sentence of his address, Obama paid tribute to this document, using its continued relevance as a springboard to argue for his agenda.
“Each time we gather to inaugurate a president, we bear witness to the enduring strength of our Constitution,” Obama said. “We affirm the promise of our democracy. 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: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
“Today we continue a never-ending journey, to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time. For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they have never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth. The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few or the rule of a mob. They gave to us a Republic, a government of, and by, and for the people, entrusting each generation to keep safe our founding creed. For more than two hundred years, we have.”
Listeners who, at this point, might have been wondering if the President had picked up a copy of an old Ronald Reagan inaugural address by mistake, were quickly set right, as Obama pivoted to describing some of the ways that America’s “founding creed” had been “kept safe.”
“Together, we determined that a modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce; schools and colleges to train our workers,” Obama said. “Together, we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play. Together, we resolved that a great nation must care for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.”
What did these innovations have to do with the Constitution? Obama did not specify. In fact, as the speech went on, he seemed more interested in describing the ways in which deviation from the spirit of the Founders was, in fact, the most consistent way to follow the constitutional spirit. For instance, at one point, Obama practically seemed to elevate the communitarian spirit of his 2012 campaign pronouncement “You didn’t build that” into a constitutional principle (emphasis added):
“But we have always understood that when times change, so must we; that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action. For the American people can no more meet the demands of today’s world by acting alone than American soldiers could have met the forces of fascism or communism with muskets and militias. No single person can train all the math and science teachers we’ll need to equip our children for the future, or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores. Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation, and one people.”
This passage, as it turns out, was also the last to tether Obama’s vision to the Constitution. Watch video of the President’s unusual bit of rhetorical sleight of hand below: