Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Obama speech: Anti-government era is over

By Van Jones, CNN Contributor
March 8, 2013 -- Updated 0231 GMT (1031 HKT)
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
Social media explosion over inauguration

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.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

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

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery support the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1817 GMT (0217 HKT)
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1752 GMT (0152 HKT)
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1252 GMT (2052 HKT)
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1026 GMT (1826 HKT)
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1250 GMT (2050 HKT)
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1845 GMT (0245 HKT)
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1328 GMT (2128 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Steve Israel is right: Some Republicans encourage anti-Latino prejudice. But that kind of bias is not limited to the GOP.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 2323 GMT (0723 HKT)
Peggy Drexler counts the ways Phyllis Schlafly's argument that lower pay for women helps them nab a husband is ridiculous.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1539 GMT (2339 HKT)
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
ADVERTISEMENT