Equality focus of inaugural address

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President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama stroll down Pennsylvania Ave during the inaugural parade Monday. Buy this photo

By Katie Burke, Daily News Editor
Published January 21, 2013

WASHINGTON – On a cold Monday afternoon, an estimated 600,000-person crowd gathered on the National Mall to hear the inaugural address of President Barack Obama one more time.

Obama’s second inauguration took place on Martin Luther King Jr. Day with a crowd considerably smaller than the estimated 1.8 million who attended his first inauguration four years ago. The ceremony, which was themed, “Faith in America’s Future,” occurred 150 years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation and 50 years after King’s March on Washington. And as if to further cement the importance of such a day, Obama was sworn in on the King family bible, in addition to President Lincoln’s.

The president’s address, which lasted about 20 minutes, focused on working towards equality and a safety net for all facets of U.S. citizens, drawing from sources such as the Declaration of Independence and the Stonewall riots of 1969.

Members of the audience on the Mall were decked in Obama paraphernalia and red, white and blue, demonstrating support for their newly re-elected president.

Richard Blanco, the youngest inaugural poet in history, read his poem, “One Today” following the president’s address. Blanco is also the first gay poet to participate in inaugural ceremonies.

Renowned pop singer Beyonce closed the ceremony before the benediction with the National Anthem, inciting a resounding ovation from the audience.

Obama said although his second administration will turn to issues of youth in the United States, they will in no way forget those who came before.

“We reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future,” Obama said.

He said success for the country will come from the efforts of each U.S. citizen.

“We know that America thrives when every person can find independence and pride in their work; when the wages of honest labor liberate families from the brink of hardship,” Obama said.

Obama said changes need to go further for the United States, replacing programs and policies that are no longer relevant.

“We understand that outworn programs are inadequate to the needs of our time,” Obama said. “So we must harness new ideas and technology to remake our government, revamp our tax code, reform our schools and empower our citizens with the skills they need to work harder, learn more, reach higher.”

He added that opportunities must be available for all in order to move forward as a nation.

“We do not believe that in this country freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few,” Obama said.

Aaron Kall, director of the University’s Debate Institute and debate team, said Obama’s second inaugural speech was shorter than the first but went further in outlining a liberal policy.

“(Obama’s second address) was more succinct, but it was bolder in the sense that he felt emboldened by his reelection victory and the fact that he doesn’t have to run for office again,” Kall said.

Kall added that the address touted optimism and partnership with the people of the United States in winning major policy battles and laid an unusual framework.

“I think he was in uncharted territory in this speech and in terms of his call for equality,” Kall said.

A major facet of Obama’s call for equality is student debt loan policy, which has many young U.S. citizens struggling to stay afloat in the slowly recovering economy.

Donald Grimes, senior research associate and economist at the University’s Institute for Research for Labor, Employment and the Economy, said growing finances could reverse recent economic growth.

“Student loan debt is one of those potential exogenous events that could really upset the apple cart,” Grimes said. “Obviously, a lot of students have had a hard time finding jobs.”

Grimes said student borrowing for tuition has topped $1 trillion this year. Under a program expanded by Obama’s first administration, the government has been lending more money to cover student expenses at public, private and for-profit colleges.

Obama began his first term in a national economic crisis and created an economic strategy accordingly. Grimes said in the current period of recovery, new goals must be set to continue on such a path.

“(The two main problems) will be the growing inequality between the haves and the have-nots and continued difficulties in dealing with the federal budget deficit,” Grimes said.

Grimes said income inequality could be at a historic high at the end of Obama’s second term if measures aren’t taken to combat it.

Among the audience on the Mall, many were hopeful about the next four years, including American University seniors and first-time voters Eileen Falk and Jessica Micciolo.

Falk, from Southbury, Conn., said the president has been putting the country on the right track in terms of policy related to students.

“We’re always (concerned about higher education funding), but I think we’re heading in a good direction with Barack Obama,” Falk said. “It’s definitely a big concern.”

Micciolo said the winding down of her time as an undergraduate has increased the stress of dealing with debt.

“We’re all graduating in May, and we’re all graduating with a ton of loans.”

Follow Katie Burke on Twitter at @KatieGBurke.