If President Obama did nothing else in his fine inaugural address on Monday, he started a national discussion in which the word "liberal" could be used freely.
The fact that the president accomplished that without ever using the word himself is a minor point. Pundits and politicians have been throwing around the "L" word in the last 48 hours since the inauguration, and many have done so without using it as an insult.
It is being said that Obama has proposed what amounts to an ambitious liberal agenda, and that his speech was a bold defense of a liberal view of society.
I will go with that flow. I have been arguing for years that liberals should stop running away from the word. What happens is that we allow conservatives to define liberal as something akin to "terrorist" or "ax murderer" or "Lance Armstrong," then we allow them to call us that, and then we dissemble. We're not "liberal," but "progressive," or we "don't believe in labels."
Monday's speech may end up being most significant -- beyond the fact that it was a hell of a good speech -- because the freely and fairly and convincingly reelected President of the United States said the word "gay" out loud, he mentioned "Stonewall," and he shot back forcefully at the Romney/Ryan view of the world where those who get a helping hand from the rest of us are called "takers."
So, in broad themes, the president's speech was very liberal. It was about inclusion and tolerance and a spirit of community.
But did he really lay out a liberal agenda? Is simply acknowledging what virtually every scientist on the planet understands to be human-caused global climate change a liberal thing to do? Is simply catching up with a rapidly changing society in which being gay is no longer a stigma being liberal? Is admitting the popular and obvious political reality that we're not going to gut Social Security and Medicare the liberal approach?
The president only mentioned gun control in an oblique reference to Newtown, and his actual proposals are far too weak. It's good that he has put global climate change back on the agenda, but we've lost four valuable years and have put ourselves deeper in the hole by not acting sooner. I'm proud to say that my president now supports gay marriage, but he hasn't actually done anything about it. And the successful and all too brief economic stimulus plan reminded us of what we can do when we invest in America. We should do more of that. A lot more.
Most of what the president said was to simply acknowledge political and scientific realities. It's a measure of how far gone the Republican Party is that they tried to cast these things as some sort of far left liberal agenda. I guess when your point of reference is the Salem Witch Trials, anything left of the Inquisition seems radical to you.
So I welcome the new found currency of the good word liberal, and I welcome President Obama's apparent embrace of a slightly left of center direction for his second term. But we've got a very long way to go before that agenda can truly be called liberal.