Obama uses Newtown as symbol of unfinished business

Washington – President Barack Obama never mentioned guns or violence in this second inaugural address, which focused on the his ambitions for his final term.

Instead he used Newtown, the place where 20 children and six educators were gunned down on Dec. 14, as one new symbol of the kind of change he’s seeking in his final years in the White House.

“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 his inaugural address.

Avoiding a direct attack on gun violence, Obama weaved his remarks about the violence at Newtown into a broader commentary on the failings of America he wants to fix in his second term.

“The president is really enlarging the vision and symbol that Newtown reflects, not just as a horrific tragedy, but what we can do better as a nation,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.

Like most members of Congress, Blumenthal witnessed the swearing-in just yards from the president.

In a statement, Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said Obama’s mention of Newtown signals his “personal commitment to ending gun violence and that gun control will be a top priority in the early days of his second term.”

Scott McLean, political science professor at Quinnipiac University, said he expected Obama to mention Newtown, but is likely to expand on the theme of guns and violence, and other second-term goals, in his State of the Union speech in early February.

“This was a ceremony of American civil religion, highly ritualistic and loaded with symbolism,'” McLean said.

Obama called for equality and unity.

“Preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action,” he said.

With a divided Congress, Obama plans to reach out directly to the American people to lobby lawmakers on key issues, including gun control.

In very broad strokes, the president also laid out a political agenda that included defense of entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security, support for immigration and tax reforms and action on climate change.

“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,” Obama said.

The president also defended gay marriage and is the first to use the word “gay” in an inaugural address.

The inaugural poet, Richard Blanco, also alluded to Newtown, citing “the impossible vocabulary of sorrow that won’t explain the empty desks of twenty children marked absent today, and forever.”

As he’s done for the last four presidential inaugurations, McLean brought a group of Quinnipiac students to witness history in Washington.

Junior political science student Liz Walker, of Cheshire, said it was “way more than I expected” and was surprised at the crowd’s reaction to Obama’s speech.

“I didn’t realize just how many people supported him,” Walker, 21 said. “It’s so different from watching it on TV.”
Walker also said she was impressed by how “personal and animated” the president was.

“The way he put emotion in his speech really got to me,” she said.

As it was for Walker, the inauguration was the first presidential swearing-in Margie Hodge, 66, of Hamden, has attended.

“It’s still historic, even if it was his second time,” Hodge said.

But witnessing history came at a price. Hodge was one of what could have been as many as a million people who crowded the grounds of the Capitol and the National Mall. Most were too far away to see the proceedings on the inaugural platform and watched the swearing in on Jumbotrons.

“I actually felt I saw more four years ago at home,” she said.

Lisa Kasak, 76, of Stratford, said there was “lots of walking and lots of waiting.”

“But it was worth it,” said Kasak, who won her ticket to the inauguration through a lottery held by Murphy’s office. “Even friends of mine who are Republican said ‘Wow, you are going to the inauguration.’ “