Washington: Standing in the shadow of the United States Capitol, a building that has become a morgue to collective action, the President used his second inaugural address to call for an end to division, before outlining an agenda to thrill his progressive supporters and appal his conservative opponents.
It was, to use the Australian vernacular, a speech for the true believers.
IN FULL: Obama's second inauguration address
US President, Barack Obama, takes the oath of office and delivers his second inaugural address in Washington.
Mr Obama explicitly called for equal rights for gays, dismissed climate change denialism, alluded to the massacre in Newtown (and by implication to gun control) and mounted a defence of the role of government in American society in an address that echoed the second inaugural speech of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, author of the New Deal.
"We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate," said the President, a barb at the hard right of the Republican Party.
Mr Obama challenged the Randian philosophy of Paul Ryan, the Republican congressman and vice presidential candidate, who sat near him on the stage on the western terrace of the Capitol building as he spoke.
"Together, we determined that a modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce, schools and colleges to train our workers. Together, we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play,” he said.
“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. "
If FDR's voice echoed in the speech, Martin Luther King's thundered. By chance the inauguration fell upon Martin Luther King Day, and after swearing his oath of office on two Bibles – one owned by Abraham Lincoln, the other by Dr King – Mr Obama gave his speech looking out over a crowd of a million people to the Lincoln Memorial, from which Dr King gave one of his most famous speeches.
Obama linked the Stonewall protests that gave birth to the gay rights movement in 1969 to the 1848 women's rights convention in Seneca Falls and the civil rights movement.
“We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths — that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.”
“Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law — for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well,” he said.
On climate change the President said: “Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.”
The President elevated negotiated settlement over military intervention, saying “enduring peace and lasting security do not require perpetual war.”
And he declared that immigration reform would be a boon to the nation, telling the crowd, “Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity. Until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce, rather than expelled from our country.”
Observing the traditional inauguration political cease-fire, few elected Republicans responded yesterday, and those that did chose their words carefully. “Well ... a lot of that speech I would have been proud to have given. Particularly the first part,” Jeb Hensarling, a Republican from Texas, told Roll Call. “A fair amount of it, not so.”
Leading conservative commentators were more free with their thoughts.
“I think very important historically because this this was really Obama unbound,” said Charles Krauthammer on Fox News. “And I think what's most interesting is that Obama basically is declaring the end of Reaganism in this speech… This speech today was an ode to big government. It was a hymn to big government.”
By contrast Mr Obama's supporters heard in the speech the voice of the man they elected four years ago, and who to many had been lost in a miasma of Washingtonian compromise ever since.
Critics also noted that Mr Obama skated quickly over the significant problems America still faces, particularly those concerning its debt and deficit, instead casting the nation as emerging from a period of trial.
“A decade of war is now ending. An economic recovery has begun. America's possibilities are limitless, for we possess all the qualities that this world without boundaries demands: youth and drive; diversity and openness; an endless capacity for risk and a gift for reinvention. My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment, and we will seize it — so long as we seize it together.”
So robust was the speech that The Washington Post columnist Chris Cillizza observed, "This was a speech that could only be given by someone who knew that he would never have to run for re-election again... Distill Obama's speech to a single sentence and that sentence is: 'I'm the president, deal with it.'"