Welcome Back, Mr. President.
Yesterday, Barack Obama was officially sworn into his second four-year term as President of the United States. Today, he was publicly sworn in a second time in front of an audience of hundreds of thousands, with millions more watching on television and via live internet feeds.
The Wall Street Journal has a transcript of his second inaugural address here.
The president's public inauguration also falls on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, a federal holiday created in memory of the slain civil rights leader. In a way, it's both fitting and fulfilling to see the nation's first black president ushered into a second term on the same day that celebrates the legacy of a prominent voice in a movement to attain and extend human rights to those once considered "second-class citizens." In a sense, Obama's second term in office is an affirmation of the type of progress Dr. King envisioned.
Meanwhile, many people wish that the president would to more to emulate Dr. King, whether it be speaking more strongly and more frequently on issues affecting the black community or being more of a man of peace, especially in regards to the deadlier side of foreign policy and the subsequent military action that follows. There was a minor uproar about the president using Dr. King's bible in addition to that of Abraham Lincoln's during his first official inauguration, as though doing such was highly inappropriate.
Looking at that story, I sense a minor undercurrent that the president didn't seem worthy enough to use Dr. King's bible for his swearing-in ceremony. That stems from the assumption that the president is somehow indebted not just to Dr. King, but also the black American public who played a significant role in securing his presidency. There's also a tendency to link both Dr. King and President Obama to one another, as though the latter is somehow obligated to continue the legacy of the former.
To do so would be a grave mistake. While Dr. King was among the many civil rights figures instrumental in breaking the cold, iron grip of Jim Crow and opening the country's eyes to injustice and hatred in their own backyards, the President of the United States has the task of being the president, not a surrogate civil rights figure. Although it would be wonderful to see the president become a greater champion of black American issues, he also has the obligation of governing the country for the benefit of all Americans.