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Obama speech: Anti-government era is over

By Van Jones, CNN Contributor
updated 9:31 PM EST, Thu March 7, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Van Jones: Reagan promoted simplistic idea that government and liberty are at odds
  • Reagan et al. tried to turn love of country into hate for government, he says
  • Jones: Obama offers "liberty and justice for all" patriotism
  • Jones: Obama's address also shows he is standing on the right side of history

Editor's note: Van Jones, a CNN contributor, is president and founder of Rebuild the Dream, an online platform focusing on policy, economics and media. He was President Obama's green jobs adviser in 2009. He is also founder of Green for All, a national organization working to build a green economy.

(CNN) -- Thirty-two years ago, President Ronald Reagan launched an era of anti-government politics with his first inaugural address. On Monday, President Barack Obama offered the best rebuttal to date.

Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer said the speech marked "the end of Reaganism," and I couldn't agree more.

Like Reagan, the president sought to ground the national conversation in his own definition of patriotism. But instead of the "liberty-only" patriotism of Reagan and political descendants such as Paul Ryan, who would turn love of country into hate for its government and its people, Obama offered a deeper "liberty and justice for all" patriotism.

Van Jones
Van Jones

Obama noted that the world has changed -- that global problems cause local disasters, and what happens across town affects you and your neighbors -- and he called on us all to realize that you cannot have liberty for all without justice for all.

Opinion: World to Obama -- You can't ignore us

Perhaps most fittingly, on a day heavy with memory, the president invoked those who once stood on the National Mall to hear a different type of founding father -- "a king (who proclaimed) that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth."

The overtones of Reagan's 1981 speech rang so loudly, in fact, that it's clear the president and his team looked to that address as inspiration.

How will history judge Obama's speech?
Memorable inauguration speeches
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Reagan offered up a vision of an over-taxed, long-neglected "We the People"; Obama's version of "We the People" is youthful, diverse, energetic and engaged.

Both saw their addresses as a call to arms for all Americans. Both sought to tie the best traditions of our founding fathers to today's challenges. Both insisted that what truly drives America is the ingenuity and independence of our people.

Opinion: Obama finally meets Machiavelli

But while Reagan advanced the simplistic idea that government and liberty are always at odds, Obama's speech reflected the realizations of a new century.

Instead of "government is the problem," the president reminded us that we could all fall victim to sudden misfortune. Instead of pinning blame for every social problem on the size of government, the president recognized both individual responsibility and the role of community in giving each child the opportunity to succeed.

Like Reagan, the president invoked the names of famous places in American history -- but instead of battles, he tied Stonewall in with Selma and cemented his declaration that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights are civil rights.

Coming off an election during which today's Reaganites insulted a nation of "takers," the president declared that Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security "free us to take the risks that make this country great."

Opinion: Obama's ringing defense of liberalism

This was not a partisan speech. It was not a campaign rally. But it showed that Obama will not back away from a fight. He is staking a bet that a rising generation has a new vision for the country.

I do not think that following through will be easy, or that the president will do everything right. But he showed Monday that he is standing on the right side of history.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Van Jones.

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