Obama begins second term

President Obama is starting a second four years in the White House with big legislative plans on the domestic front.

It was a cold and otherwise lackluster day Monday in Washington, D.C., when President Barack Obama was ceremoniously sworn into office for his second four-year term as this country's chief executive.

But the grim weather could not suppress the bright sunshine of representative democracy that was exemplified by Obama when he took his oath of office and delivered a 19-minute inaugural speech setting forth his vision of the future.

However simple the swearing-in process may seem, it's anything but. Nations all over the globe struggle with the method of choosing their leaders and overseeing transitions of power. In this country, people vote for their leaders, abide by the results and move from one term of office to another with businesslike efficiency.

So it was that Obama, like all his predecessors in the Oval Office, set forth his hopes in an address that was more policy prescription than call to arms.

The country clearly is better off, at least marginally, than it was four years ago.

When President Obama took office four years ago, America was deep in a recession, the housing and banking crises were recent memories and the United States was at war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The banking crisis is long over, although the industry remains troubled. The recession has turned into a very slow recovery while, unfortunately, the unemployment rate is roughly the same. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are largely over, although recent events show that al-Qaida, the terror group that launched the 9/11 attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., not only is not defeated, as once was thought, but also is making big trouble in Libya and Algeria.

Still, it was mostly on domestic issues that President Obama focused his attention with full-throated calls for major action on a series of hot-button issues.

In contrast to vague statements of the past, Obama embraced gay rights, stating that this country's work will not be 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 was equally insistent on dramatic action to address what he called the threat of global warming, saying the time for denial of the obvious is over.

"We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. 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.

With respect to illegal immigration, Obama called for some form of amnesty that will allow those who have entered the country illegally to remain here.

"Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity; until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country," he said.

Obama also made it a point to repeat his past criticism of unnamed Republicans who might not share his policy prescriptions.

"We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics or treat name-calling as reasoned debate," he said.

In many respects, Obama's address was more like a State of the Union speech than an inaugural. But each president has his own way of doing things. During his first presidential campaign, Obama announced his goal of fundamentally transforming this country. His second inaugural informed his fellows citizens what's next on his to-do list.

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