The Ice Is Breaking

Obama's confident speech signals an end to deadlock in Washington

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Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

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There was, however, something crucial missing from the speech. The President's highest moments of passion were reserved for the celebration of the struggle for civil rights, "through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall," a phrase that will resonate in history. He had nothing to say about civic responsibilities, though. There was not even the vaguest approximation of Kennedy's clarion call, "Ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country." There was no acknowledgment that rights come with responsibilities in a democracy, especially for those--rich and poor--who are getting special benefits from the government. There was no call to a greater sense of community at a time when we have lost the habits of citizenship.

The public recitation of Inaugural poems also began in 1961, with Robert Frost. His was not very good, and those since have been mired in pomposity--until Richard Blanco's classic American effort this year, celebrating the simple majesty of our daily lives, "weaving steel into bridges, finishing one more report/ for the boss on time ... the first brush stroke on a portrait/ or the last floor on the Freedom Tower/ jutting into a sky that yields to our resilience."

We have come through a difficult time. Blanco's message, and Obama's, is that we are now free to move on.

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