Obama the European?

WASHINGTON – Barack Obama began his second term as US President with an inaugural address that presented a broad vision of American government. In Europe, the prevailing reaction highlights that, between the lines, America’s first self-proclaimed “Pacific president” delivered the most “European” inaugural address in recent memory.

Obama’s speech not only embraced the core principles of social democracy as understood in Europe, but also heralded a new era of American engagement in global governance issues. But, notwithstanding Obama’s Euro-enthusiasm, valid questions remain concerning his administration’s foreign policy.

Along with frequent references to America’s founding principles and to the touchstones of US history, Obama presented a vision of society, government, and foreign relations with which most Europeans could identify, including explicit references to women’s rights and, for the first time in such a high-level speech, gay rights.

The address also embraced social welfare (“The commitments we make to each other through Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security, these things do not sap our initiative, they strengthen us”) and the idea of fraternité (“preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action”).