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With his far-reaching inaugural address Monday, an emboldened President Barack Obama made the case for an activist federal government and a decidedly liberal agenda while challenging the gridlocked Congress to act.
In a surprisingly aggressive address that called for action on climate change, gay rights, immigration and the nation’s partisan divide, Obama urged the country to come together to reaffirm — and extend — its founding principles.
“Being true to our founding documents does not require us to agree on every contour of life,” Obama said. “It does not mean we all define liberty in exactly the same way or follow the same precise path to happiness. Progress does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time, but it does require us to act in our time.”
The bold push for long-sought liberal policy goals came against the backdrop of a Congress that may not even be able to avoid a government shutdown in March and has only managed to govern through serial self-imposed deadlines and crises.
But the president went well beyond the cautious, compromise-first efforts in his first term that so often disappointed his liberal base, suggesting that he will keep to the harder-nosed negotiating style he has employed since Election Day.
Liberals cheered, believing the president was making the argument they always thought he should make.
“It wasn’t compromising at all. It laid out the things that need to be done and asked us to historically think about the people who met these challenges before,” Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., said. “I’ve been waiting a long time for this speech.”
Miller said Obama four years ago clearly felt the burden of the financial crisis he inherited. But with the economy making modest gains, he can think bolder. “Is this American rainbow all going to be included?” he asked.
Rep. Henry Waxman praised Obama’s climate change push, telling the president after the speech that he needs to do more.
“I think the president is determined to move forward on a lot of issues that he couldn’t deal with in his first term, and particularly the first one he mentioned was climate change and global warming. I’m delighted he did,” the California Democrat said.
While many Republicans had only lukewarm comments about the speech — with some grousing at the tone and the activist agenda — many Democrats believe Obama’s speech will force the GOP to respond.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Shultz, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, said the point isn’t necessarily what might seem achievable in Congress right now.