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President Obama’s Second Inaugural Address and Self-Executing Truths

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There was a lot for me to like in President Obama’s second inaugural address yesterday. Many are focusing on the policy signals he sent, most notably related to climate change and renewable energy. The phrase that most piqued my interest, however, related to the truths articulated in the second sentence of the Declaration of Independence. From the president’s remarks:

“For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they have never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth.”

This, folks, is a call to action. To me, these words mean continuing our work to bring science to public policy decisions, and to better engage scientists in informing the media, the public, and the work of government. To others with a different perspective, they will mean something else entirely. But we will all be striving towards the same goal: the equal ability of all Americans to defend their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

View of President Obama's second inauguration

My view of yesterday’s inauguration.

While Mr. Obama is a changed man after four challenging years as president, he is still a community organizer in his heart. He knows that he can’t go it alone. He wants—and needs—to be pushed hard, both publicly and behind the scenes, to advance an agenda that values reason over ideology and prioritizes public health and safety.

After the first hundred days of the president’s first term, UCS president Kevin Knobloch wrote the following:

“UCS is heartened that [the Obama] administration has planted the seeds for restoring scientific integrity to federal policy making—but recognizes that these seeds must be nurtured in order to grow…we should remember the following quote attributed to Franklin Delano Roosevelt: “I agree with you. I want to do it. Now make me do it.” In other words, UCS must help create the political space that allows the president and his administration to take the bold action we need to protect science, health, and the environment for years to come.”

The need for that political space has not changed, and the president knows it. He closed yesterday by saying that all of us are obligated to “shape the debates of our time…with the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideals.”

Indeed, our inalienable rights have never been self-executing. We have to continue to organize, to speak out, and to create opportunities for scientists and citizens alike to listen to what is needed to address our nation’s most pressing challenges and respond appropriately.

There will be special interests that will try to divert and distract us from this path. But to make progress, we must engage. The framers of our Constitution, children of the Enlightenment, would expect nothing less.

Posted in: Science and Democracy, Scientific Integrity Tags: ,

About the author: Michael Halpern is an expert on political interference in science and solutions to reduce suppression, manipulation, and distortion of government science. See Michael's full bio.

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  • Linda Dow

    That is exactly my view. He has handed the ball to his supporters to get these things done. We cannot be passive scientists, we need to be politically active. The fossil fuel industry, the agribusiness industry, etc. are so powerful that they now have almost unfettered influence by way of lobbying the government. It is up to politically active and well informed scientists to counter their influence and keep the majority of voters aware by being objectively evidence based and by presenting the best information possible.

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