SBS World News Online

The US President targeted climate change, equality and gay rights in a speech that could shape his final term in office, writes Rhiannon Elston.

Barack Obama’s inaugural speech lasted just 20 minutes, but it could leave a permanent stamp on the shape of his second term, experts claim.

“Inaugurations are events that can shape history,” says Presidential Biographer Robert Caro in an official White House video.

“Kennedy’s ‘Ask not what your country can do for you,’ that was an inauguration,” he adds. “Lincoln saying ‘Malice towards none, charity for all,’ that was an inauguration.”

The US President laid a clearly progressive agenda on the table with a speech that highlighted equality, climate change and gay rights as key areas for change, after being publicly sworn in for another four years in the White House on Monday.

Obama also underscored his prior achievements and challenges, noting the end of “a decade of war,” and the beginning of economic recovery in the United States.

Dr Nick Sharman from the University of Melbourne, who calls the speech “hopeful”, says the President’s attention to climate change was surprising and significant.

“There’s quite a long section on climate change and that hasn’t been something he has focused on much to date,” he says.

“It’s very noticeable — it was given not just a little mention but significant prominence.”

Obama emphasised a need to move towards sustainable energy sources. “America cannot resist this transition, we must lead it,” he declared.

The President also reinforced a commitment to promoting gay rights within America, an issue he notably tackled during his first term with the repeal of the controversial ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ military policy.

“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.

The President’s speech carried “a great sense of rhetoric, and that can be powerful,” says Sharman.

But he warned Obama may have a tough time converting all of his promises to policy, given his limited power in congress.

“It’s all very well to make a speech, but he’s still got the Republicans controlling congress, so it’s going to be difficult to get legislation through.”

Political analyst Luke Freedman from the US Studies Centre says Obama’s declarations could have value in steering thought and opinion even if they are not immediately drafted into law.

“I think it influences how we think about the budget proposals going forward.”

“Getting [climate change policy] through congress would be extremely difficult,” says Freedman “But I think [Obama] will try, and who knows? The attitude might change.”


This article was originally published by SBS World News Online