Policy Resource

Obama’s Second Inauguration: Seizing the Moment

Jan 18, 2013

Yesterday, in a ceremony symbolizing the orderly transfer of power that distinguishes our democracy, President Barack Obama was sworn in for his second term in office.

In his inaugural address, President Obama emphasized the collective American experience, responsibilities to each other, and actions that flow from the Declaration of Independence’s assertion that “all men are created equal” and “are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights.” He noted that while these truths may be self-evident, we the people have to take action to make them a reality.

The President said our challenge today is bridging “the meaning of those words with the realities of our time.” To do that we must act together to meet the demands of today’s world. In one of the most stirring lines of the speech, he said, “we are made for this moment and we will seize it, so long as we seize it together.”

The thread of “We the people” and our common beliefs about the need for all to share in prosperity and have the chance to succeed reverberated throughout the speech. Noting that any one of us at any time can face calamity, the President underscored the importance of “the commitments we make to each other” through social programs, rejecting the idea that these programs sap our initiative, but rather strengthen us when all share in freedom and happiness.

How might these words translate into the realities faced by infants and toddlers in this, our time? Surely, President Obama meant to include them when he said, “Together we resolve that a great nation must care for the vulnerable and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.” He made clear that he does not believe we have to choose between caring for seniors and investing in the future. Yet, as welcome as these words are, we know that the fiscal problems our country faces makes realizing these philosophical and policy choices more difficult.

As advocates for very young children and their families, we must take on the challenges laid out in the President’s speech. Early on, he said, “We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else because she is an American, she is free, and she is equal not just in the eyes of God but also in our own.” These are inspiring words, but think about what it takes to truly give children born into poverty an equal chance to succeed: more support for families as they nurture early development, high quality early care and learning programs, better jobs for their parents, good nutrition, and so on. These things do not just happen. It may seem self-evident that children have the right to a good start in life, but it is up to us to advocate for the policies that will make them a reality. A time when funds are scarce and the challenges great is the time when we should be making the case that investing in young children who will build our future is the wise choice for us as a nation. As the President exhorted, it is time for us to seize the moment.

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