President Barack Obama’s inaugural address Monday was unsurprisingly eloquent and touched on the ideas and promises of past leaders for motivation in moving forward in his final term. The address, which appropriately fell on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, included exhortations for furthering freedom and equality at home and abroad. The president also cited the Declaration of Independence when he discussed the importance of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
However, the president must do more to advance liberty and must not give in to the temptation to increase government power if our nation is to truly move forward without compromising its ideals.
Obama’s first term was a relatively successful one. He oversaw the withdrawal of the last troops from Iraq and arguably helped prevent a worldwide economic breakdown, in addition to repealing the military’s discriminatory Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy. Despite these successes, the role of government in individual affairs only expanded while liberty receded. Obama’s inaugural address reinforced that this will only continue in the next term.
A majority of the initiatives Obama took in his first term are clear examples of government expansion and a reduction of individual choice and liberty. The president’s Affordable Care Act, likely the landmark legislation of his presidency, moved the United States closer to a system of government-run health care than ever before.
In keeping with the theme of strong social welfare programs, Obama mentioned by name Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security in his inaugural address, saying that they are “commitments we make to each other” and that they “do not sap our initiative, they strengthen us.” What he failed to mention was the insolvency of such programs and the very real possibility that the system of social “security” we are investing in today likely will be high and dry by the time we collect our checks as retirees.
It is time for the president and the entire nation to recognize that the solution to our problems is not more government but less. Instead of forcing individuals to allocate their wealth into channels predetermined and controlled by the government, the government — led by the president — must encourage investment in the free market and individual responsibility for finances.
In addition to the expansion of government through such means as Obamacare, the president arguably abused executive power beyond its parameters in more than one notable instance during his first term. In the high-profile “Fast and Furious” scandal involving the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the president exercised executive privilege in response to the House Oversight Committee’s requests for documents pertaining to the case.
If the president was willing to so publicly demonstrate wide executive powers in his first term for the purpose of avoiding inter-branch oversight, the fact that he does not face re-election at the end of the next four years indicates that this would only continue.
Most frighteningly, civil liberties as outlined in the Constitution have only been more restricted in the name of national security. The National Defense Authorization Act gives the executive branch the power to indefinitely detain individuals suspected of terrorism without due process of law, which constitutes a serious blow to individual citizens’ constitutional provisions for resisting overly extensive government power.
The issues that were not emphasized in the inaugural address are the most damning for the president: the crippling national debt and curbing of civil liberties. It is these issues that must be addressed in the upcoming term if the United States is to come out of the fiscal and ideological free fall it has been experiencing for the past number of years.
However, the strongly partisan and “progressive” agenda outlined by the president in his address does not indicate that these issues will be a priority in his second term.
None of this is to say that presidents that came before Obama were any better. In fact, his immediate predecessor President George W. Bush was disastrous in his expansion of government power, deepening of the national debt and abridgement of civil liberties with the constitutionally questionable USA PATRIOT Act.
The failures of former presidents are not justification for Obama to expand upon them, though. If anything, it should inform the president in reversing the damaging effects of these failures for the sake of our nation’s preservation.
Given the tone and content of the president’s second inaugural ceremony, though, the best we can hope for is that things do not get even worse. Significant improvement in the most crucial areas will likely have to wait for four more years.
Sarah Cueva is a junior majoring in Middle East studies and political science. Her column “Homeland” runs every Wednesday.