U.S. President Barack Obama (L) is joined by daughters Malia (2ndR) and Sasha (R) as he takes the oath of office from Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts (C) at the White House in Washington January 20, 2013. (Photo : Reuters)
President Obama will give his second inaugural speech on Monday, but unlike the fiery oratory and arithmetic breakdowns of his speeches during last year's election, he is expected to set a more conciliatory tone ahead of contentious debates with Congress in the coming months.
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Of course, more conciliatory does not mean acquiescent. Obama has won reelection, and the pressures of polls are behind him. Despite sluggish economic recovery, Americans handily voted him back into office, and he intends to exploit his popularity, with his current approval rating above 50 percent.
Congressional Republicans are held in much lower esteem, so expect Obama to lay out general policy proposals conservatives won't be happy with.
Obama will start off with platitudes typical for an inaugural address. He'll talk about bipartisanship and coming together as a nation. An inaugural address needn't convince anyone of anything, so specifics usually give way to soaring rhetoric and (sometimes baseless) optimism.
But sources close to the administration say Obama will at least acknowledge the gridlock in Washington, though he won't point fingers at any party in particular. That goes without saying. Most Americans blame the Republicans for the partisan stalemate in Congress, so Obama can take the high road.
In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting in December, pressure is high to do something about gun violence. Obama will probably mention gun control, though he probably won't get into specifics like an assault weapons ban, background checks, restrictions on high-capacity magazines or access to mental health.
Those policies will be argued in Congress soon, but the inaugural address usually remains unsullied by particulars.
It is meant to be a kind of blank slate that nearly any American can project their own hopes onto.
Still, it is a speech made by a politician, so Obama will likely bring up other issues of contention. He'll mention immigration reform, and tie in the plight of undocumented immigrants to the ideal of the American dream and of the nation as a refuge for those looking for a fresh start and equal footing.
He will not mention deportation deferment or a path to citizenship, policy proposals best left to the State of the Union address on Feb. 12.
And Obama will need to mention the economy and the looming showdown over raising taxes or slashing spending.
But he will shy away from topics like the debt ceiling, sequestration, or even words like "taxes."
Instead he will speak about fairness, how we're all in this together, how those who have prospered must pay their fair share so everyone can get ahead.
While these themes are recycled from his campaign, their vitriol will be blunted, and they will be expressed in hazy generalities that everyone, ostensibly, can get behind.
For the inaugural address is not debate, or policy or competition. It is a victory lap, a well-earned chance for a newly-seated President to set a vision for the future. And if that vision is similar to one espoused four years prior, so be it.