WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama embedded a surprising call for progressive action in his appeal for unity and continuity in an inaugural address Monday that marked the start of his second term in the White House.
Standing on the western steps of the Capitol overlooking the National Mall come to life with 800,000 people, Obama called for Americans to work together to "seize the moment."
But he also charged them with fulfilling the self-evident truth that "all men are created equal."
Obama delivered a litany of Democratic goals and liberal principles for his next term: leveling income inequality, preserving the social safety net, addressing climate change, working toward energy security and resolving international crises peacefully.
"It was a very assertive and very confident speech," said Margaret Susan Thompson, a history and political science associate professor at the Maxwell School at Syracuse University. "It was also a much more progressive and substantive inaugural address than many had anticipated."
For the first time in an inaugural address, Obama called for legal rights for gays and lesbians, saying achieving equality is not complete "until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law."
He brought up that cause along with equal pay for women, the right of citizens to vote without lengthy delays, an overhaul of immigration and protection of children from shooting massacres such as the one at Newtown, Conn.
He closed with a call for action: "You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time -- not only with the votes we cast, but with the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideals."
"People who see this as a progressive message are certainly right," said Robert Lehrman, who teaches speech writing at American University and worked with Vice President Al Gore.
"These are the principles and the issues that will guide him in the next four years, and yes, it's an agenda that's very different from George Bush or Mitt Romney," Lehrman said, referring to the last Republican president and defeated GOP presidential candidate. "But I don't think he said it in a partisan way."
"He did set a tone of unity and working together. He did set a tone on what he campaigned for. That was legitimate." King said. "But I thought parts of it were more of a campaign speech than an inaugural address."
Specifically, King objected to what he called Obama's "hard line" on how to reduce the costs of Medicare and other entitlement programs -- a budget fight that Congress will take up in the next few months.
Lehrman said the policies Obama raised Monday were mostly the same ones he spoke about in his first inaugural address in 2009. But as a speech, he said, the second address fell short of the first.
"The abstract language, unrelieved by inspiring stories or details of Americans sacrificing, and the punchy language, made it a lot harder for people to understand and made it a lot harder for people to be inspired," Lehrman said.
Thompson, however, said there was one line that Obama delivered Monday that will be remembered 50 years from now:
"We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths -- that all of us are created equal -- is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth."