President Obama delivers his inaugural address, January 21, 2013. (AP Photo)
Barack Obama, the president who publicly swore his second oath of office on the Bibles of Abraham Lincoln and the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., used his inaugural address to chart an arc of history from the liberation movements of the sixteenth president’s time through the civil rights movements of a century later to the day on which hundreds of thousands of Americans packed the National Mall to cheer for the promise of an emboldened presidency.
Obama charted that arc in a remarkable soliloquy that spoke of a fundamental America duty to provide “hope to the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the victims of prejudice”:
Not out of mere charity, but because peace in our time requires the constant advance of those principles that our common creed describes; tolerance and opportunity, human dignity and justice. We the people declare today that the most evident of truth that all of us are created equal—is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.
Obama's references to the honored ground where Americans refused anymore to accept the diminishment of women, of people of color, of lesbians and gays were meaningful. They recognized Dr. King’s recollection at the close of the Selma to Montgomery march that abolitionist Theodore Parker had promised: “Even though the arc of the moral universe is long, it bends toward justice.”
With his mentioning of the Stonewall protests, where the gay rights movement took form, Obama went further than any president in the country’s history to complete a circle of inclusion. But Obama, often and appropriately criticized for his caution, did not end on that high note. He went further still.