Obama calls for new ideas and technology to 'remake' government

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

President Obama kicked off his second term with a call for government to play a supporting role to civic activism and problem solving by average Americans.

After taking his second oath of office Monday, Obama said in his inaugural address that government could not solve all the nation’s problems on its own.

“Through it all,” Obama said of America’s history, “we have never relinquished our skepticism of central authority, nor have we succumbed to the fiction that all society’s ills can be cured through government alone. Our celebration of initiative and enterprise; our insistence on hard work and personal responsibility, are constants in our character.”

He said America must cultivate novel solutions to fix outstanding problems.

“We understand that outworn programs are inadequate to the needs of our time,” Obama said. “We must harness new ideas and technology to remake our government, revamp our tax code, reform our schools, and empower our citizens with the skills they need to work harder, learn more, and reach higher.”

In laying out his second term priorities, Obama made strong calls for immigration reform and legislation to address climate change. He emphasized a foreign policy agenda built on diplomatic engagement alongside military “strength of arms.”  As he did throughout his re-election campaign, he called for giving all Americans an equal opportunity and for an expansion of the middle class, including fulfilling promises to the older generation while not sacrificing the nation’s long-term investments.

Obama outlined a vision for the role government plays in realizing these ideas.

“We do not believe that in this country, freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few,” he said. “We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us, at any time, may face a job loss, or a sudden illness, or a home swept away in a terrible storm. The commitments we make to each other -- through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security -- these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.”

He did not address the debt ceiling or sequestration directly, but said that “we must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit.”

The government’s work will never be complete -- and the nation’s politics may always be polarizing -- but that should not stand in the way of progress, Obama said.  

“Progress does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time -- but it does require us to act in our time,” he said. “For now 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. We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect.”

Obama’s speech came before a crowd that was approximately half the size of the 1.8 million people that crowded onto the National Mall during his first inauguration. Many braved the chilly and windy January air to see the president present a vision of governance, one that has been noticeably shaped by four years of tough economic conditions and bitter partisanship in Washington.

As the president spoke, employees from a range of federal agencies directed crowds and ensured the safety of the thousands of tourists near the Capitol Hill. According to one count, 23 local, state and federal law enforcement agencies were involved in the day’s planning and operations.

The gravity of the day was not lost on Obama. Before leaving for a lunch with congressional leaders, Obama told family members “I’m not going to see this again,” and poignantly stood and watched the cheering crowd.
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