In his second inaugural address, an emboldened President Obama presented an inclusive vision for America, along with a call to leadership, that self-evident truths are never self-executing. Interwoven in the poetry of a good speech well delivered were themes that resonate with Westerners. The role of the federal government elevating universities and building railroads and highways; the imperative to respond to climate change and bolster sustainable energy sources; even an appetite for taking risks and a “gift for reinvention.” The corner of the continent nourished by Puget Sound and the Columbia River supports a population that is fiercely independent, yet contoured by executive decisions in the other Washington.
On Monday the president emphasized a mosaic of people united by a common creed. “Our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts,” Obama said. Washington was a pioneer in the area of comparable worth, of equal pay for work of equal value. “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law — for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well,” Obama said. This past November, Washington legalized same-sex marriage by a vote of the people, no less. “Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity; until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country,” Obama said. The latter is gospel for a state still unable to produce enough qualified science and engineering grads to feed the high-tech sector. And the promise of the DREAM Act was given expression in Alejandro Dominguez’s article for The Herald last Sunday profiling Mariner High School grad Ray Corona.
The president’s second-term appointments will be a harbinger of what to expect and the quality of attention paid to “the land vaguely realizing westward” (a phrase snatched from Robert Frost’s 1961 improvised inaugural poem, “The Gift Outright.”) The country will need an innovative, new energy secretary, one who understands both the promise of renewable energy as well as the monstrous task of cleaning up Hanford. Sen. Maria Cantwell or recently retired Gov. Chris Gregoire would be ideal. Obama will need a shrewd Westerner to shepherd America’s public lands. That could be Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber or Gregoire again. For EPA, another agency that shapes the West and our relationship with the natural world, there is the Northwest’s Jay Manning or Seattle’s Denis Hayes, a founder of Earth Day.
As the president said, we have an obligation to shape the debates of our time. Westerners require a strong voice.