WASHINGTON - President Obama on Monday delivered an inaugural address that was filled with optimism and themes of equality and progressive policy. But he also addressed the nation's gun lobby in a series of deliberate, carefully worded sentences that occupied an important place in the speech.
"Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for, and cherished, and always safe from harm," Obama said during the last five minutes of his approximately 20 minute-speech, as his oratory was building to a crescendo. The president has been working on this speech since early December, according to aides, carefully crafting each sentence, transition, and phrase.
The massacre of 20 children and six adults in Newtown, Conn., a month ago traumatized the nation and galvanized support for stronger gun control laws. After mentioning Newtown, Obama continued, "Being true to our founding documents does not require us to agree on every contour of life; it does not mean we will all define liberty in exactly the same way, or follow the same precise path to happiness."
Obama's reference to Newtown and then a debate over the definition of "liberty" seemed to imply that the president's words were directed at the heated debate over gun rights currently sweeping the nation.
Over the past two decades, the U.S. gun lobby, led by the National Rifle Association (NRA), has spent million of dollars on campaigns aimed at convincing the public and members of Congress that any proposed legislation designed to reduce the availability of military-style weapons to civilians is a direct attack on the Constitution.
"The main goal of the gun banners [is to] abolish every last sacred right you have under the Second Amendment ... until they reduce your freedom to ashes," wrote NRA chief lobbyist Chris Cox in a fiery fundraising email to members this past week. Topping the list of "gun banners" right now is Obama, who issued a sweeping proposal for violence prevention last week.
"Progress does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time -- but it does require us to act in our time," Obama said Monday, seemingly refering to his broad proposal, as well as the difficulty he faces in passing all of his violence prevention priorities through Congress, especially a ban on assault weapons.
"We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect," Obama told the estimated 500,000 on the National Mall. "We must act, knowing that today’s victories will be only partial."
Nevertheless, he said, "for now decisions are upon us, and we cannot afford delay. We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate."
Obama's use of the term "name-calling" was also interesting, after a week where the NRA was slammed by Republicans and Democrats alike over an attack ad it released, which labeled Obama an "elitist hypocrite." The ad was based on false information about armed security at the school Obama's two young daughters attend. New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie called it "reprehensible."
The ad was part of a multi-pronged lobbying push by the NRA and the gun industry to push back against growing public and political support for stricter gun-control laws. So far, however, the effort is off to a rocky start. In the wake of the negative response to the attack ad, five people suffered gun injuries during a nationwide Gun Appreciation Day on Saturday, which brought thousands out to gun shows and protests.