President Barack Obama sought to use his second inaugural address to tie his specific policy goals to broadly appealing rhetoric, teeing up likely fights with congressional Republicans on climate change, immigration, entitlement spending and gun reform.
A reflection of experience gained over his first term, Obama's speech tempered optimism with self-awareness. But in place of soaring rhetoric were purposeful calls for action, the mark of a president with lessons learned.
Though his speech was rife with Democratic goals, he also tried to send a unifying message centered on the country's founding ideals.
"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," Obama said.
The president reinforced his campaign message of the importance of building up the middle class, endorsed the idea of tax reform, school reform and made the case for preserving Medicare and Medicaid, two programs that take up an increasing large portion of the federal budget.
"We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit," Obama said. "But 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."
Specifically discussing climate change, Obama rebuked those who disagree it is a problem.
"Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms," he said.
Obama cited touchstone historical events when discussing the importance of equality and pressing for gay rights, voting rights and equal pay for women.
"We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths—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," he said. "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."
Making an oblique reference to the deadly mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., Obama pressed for action while acknowledging his plans for an assault weapons ban may not muster enough support to get through Congress.
"Decisions are upon us and we cannot afford delay. We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate," he said. "We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect. We must act, knowing that today's victories will be only partial and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years and 40 years and 400 years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall."
He ended the address with a political call to arms, reminding citizens of America's history as a participatory democracy.
"You and I, as citizens, have the power to set this country's course," he said. "You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time—not only with the votes we cast, but with the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideals."