For more than twenty years, the word “liberal” seemed to have disappeared from the political world. But President Obama’s speech appears to have revived it—even though the word did not appear in his inaugural address.
In the aftermath of his speech, “liberal” was suddenly everywhere—by the right (with derision) and by the left (with relief). Most interestingly, the word appeared prominently in the mainstream news outlets that have typically avoided using a term that had evolved from being a basic political descriptor to a loaded piece of jargon used as an epithet by Republicans as avoided as a liability by Democrats.
“OBAMA OFFERS LIBERAL VISION,” a New York Times banner headline blared. “For His Second Term, a Sweeping Liberal Vision,” said the Los Angeles Times. “A Speech That Embraced Liberalism,” added Politico.
If anyone found the usage inappropriate, they didn’t make much of a fuss. What made liberalism alive was not the word, but the many issues that liberals have waited for decades to hear from a president: inequality, poverty, illegal immigration, gay rights, and many other liberal promises that have been ignored or overlooked for years. Obama may not have said “liberalism,” but he made it possible for others to start talking about it again. In his inaugural address, he painted an America that has not been seen in many years: