Not as cold, certainty not as crowded as four years ago, and definitely a great day for national celebration. Leading by example, the peaceful transfer—or continuation in this case—of political power on display for the entire world to watch, as U.S. President Barack Obama publicly retook his oath of office in front of the National Mall. Laced with reverence, pomp and ceremony that is deserving of such an occasion, Barack Obama is now beginning his second—and final—term as president of the United States.
President Obama’s inaugural address touched upon a number of themes, many focused on domestic policy: the economy, role of government, sustainable energy and immigration. Some may very well regard this as the most “progressive” speech give by President Obama for some time. While not heavy on foreign policy there was mention of climate change, support of “democracy from Asia to Africa, from the Americas to the Middle East” and maintaining “strong alliances in every corner of the globe.”
This year, January 21, happens to be Martin Luther King Day here in the United States, and today of all days is one that is full of symbolism for many reasons. Dr. King preached what was to be his last Sunday sermon at the Washington National Cathedral just four days before his assassination on April 4, 1968. A progressive sermon no doubt, and from a man who had witnessed much and who had successfully brought about real and substantive change. There are a number of noteworthy lines that one could select, and here is one: “Ultimately a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus, but a molder of consensus.”
While President Obama may not have had a lot of foreign policy in his address today, immediately after the ceremony he formally submitted four cabinet nominations to the Senate: John Kerry to be Secretary of State, Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense, John Brennan as director of the CIA, and Jack Lew to be Secretary of the Treasury, four nominations that do have significant input to U.S. foreign policy and leadership in the world. The question now is can President Obama mold domestic political consensus, and international consensus, to address the vast array of pertinent topics demanding his attention?
Today truly is a day for bipartisan celebration of U.S. democracy and its institutions. And looking ahead, another quote from that sermon of Dr. King may be helpful to keep in mind: “And one of the great liabilities of life is that all too many people find themselves living amid a great period of social change, and yet they fail to develop the new attitudes, the new mental responses, that the new situation demands. They end up sleeping through a revolution.”
Damien Tomkins is Project Assistant at the East-West Center office in Washington, D.C. where he contributes research and content to the Asia Matters for America initiative and coordinates the Asia Pacific Bulletin publication series. The views expressed here are solely those of the author and not of any organization with which he is affiliated.