As second inaugural speeches go, over-ambition can prove self-defeating. Witness the Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s forceful entry into his third term in 1941, later tainted by battles with the Congress tightly controlled by his own Democratic party. More recently, George W. Bush Jr. advanced the partial privatization of Social Security in his second inaugural speech in 2005, when the Republicans still held both houses in the Congress. It failed miserably. Republicans lost both Senate and House of Representatives majorities at the ballot box in 2006 and Bush Jr. later referred to his Social Security defeat as the greatest failure from the eight years he served in the White House.
There is no doubt that Obama was aware of such second inaugural “curse” as well as the fact that Republicans still retain the majority in the House. Yet he nevertheless decided to be bold in addressing the nation when taking his second oath of office earlier this week. As many observers have pointed out, his speech might have lacked specific memorable lines, like Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” from 1961 or Reagan’s “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem,” twenty years later. However, it will probably be remembered as the most lucid and passionate arguments for progressive policies in the US recent history. Even European Social Democrats should take note.