Editorial: Obama reminds us how far we have come
President Obama’s first inauguration proved that a nation that long countenanced slavery could move in an incomplete but profound way beyond issues of race. His reelection proved that a majority of the nation is comfortable with the march to equality, a march the president continued in his pitch-perfect inaugural address.
“ ‘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,” Obama said.
In a way that no doubt thrilled some and shocked others, the president used his address to urge the nation to continue to move toward securing equality on another front. “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well,” he said.
To hear the president elevate the battle for gay rights to the same plane as the battle for equal rights for women and racial minorities, to hear a president say “our gay brothers an sisters” in a formal address would have been unimaginable just a few years ago. How far the nation has come. This year, the Supreme Court will take up two cases that could determine whether same-sex couples must be accorded the same rights heterosexual couples enjoy under federal law. We hope the court was listening as Obama spoke and relegates the Defense of Marriage Act to the dust bin of history.
The president, who in 2008 ran on a promise of hope and change, has himself changed to become an advocate for gay rights. And the president, who four years ago warned of a “planet in peril” from climate change but did little beyond increasing fuel efficiency standards, now described combatting global warming as a top mission. “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations,” he said. That was heartening, but the only specific response he mentioned was increasing reliance on sustainable energy sources. That won’t be enough, not nearly enough.
We know the economic forces and lobbying might arrayed against it are formidable. But we hope that in his next address, Obama embraces the one measure that could do more than any other to combat climate change quickly: a tax on carbon. Consumers would pay more for everything that requires the burning of fossil fuels, but those payments could be offset by a reduction in personal and corporate taxes. Additional revenue could be used to rebuild the infrastructure and reduce the national debt. The nation’s reliance on fossil fuels must go the way of discrimination against people based on race, creed, gender or sexual orientation.
Obama used his address to outline a broad second-term agenda, one that includes action on immigration reform, tax and education reform and rebuilding the infrastructure, goals that he no doubt will explain more fully in next month’s State of the Union address. He also so much as told Republicans what won’t happen in his next term: deep cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security and the rest of the social safety net. We support the president’s agenda. It’s one that recognizes that solving big problems and accomplishing big things usually requires united action, which includes action by government.