In the months of campaigning that unfolded after Mitt Romney was skewered for saying that “47 percent” of the country “believe that they are victims… believe the government has a responsibility to care for them,” President Obama was relatively silent about the remarks. But today, during his second inaugural speech, Obama got the last word in on the issue. He took the opportunity to push back on the idea that there are “takers” in America, and to stand up for the social safety net:
We do not believe that in this country, freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few. We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us, at any time, may face a job loss, or a sudden illness, or a home swept away in a terrible storm. The commitments we make to each other – through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security – these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.
The argument over the role of the social safety net is far from over, even without the accompanying campaign. In March, Congress will hit a deadline over the new fiscal cliff — a set of automatic spending cuts to both defense and social programs. During that fight, Congressional Republicans will once again attempt to push all spending cuts onto social programs — particularly in Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. Obama’s argument that these programs “do not make us a nation of takers” lays the groundwork for him to clash with Republicans over the sequester, which will otherwise decimate those programs.