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Should The Next Liberal Leader Follow Obama's Lead?

01/25/2013 10:59 EST | Updated 03/27/2013 05:12 EDT

President Obama made his second inaugural address a call to arms for a populist liberalism that gave no ground to his opponents in the far right conservative forces. With his oratorical skills he turned the promise of the Declaration of Independence of equality, life, liberty and pursuit of happiness into a call for collective action to turn these abstract inalienable rights into a lived reality for the shrinking middle class and growing numbers of impoverished citizens in the Great Republic.

While emphasising that governments must work alongside the vitality of individual responsibility, entrepreneurship and free markets, he also stressed that ultimate success of society also requires collective action to fight the just wars, educate the nation, rebuild the infrastructure and make the nation competitive.

However, Obama's call to arms starts with the claim that national prosperity rests on a rising middle class and is hampered when a "shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it." While acknowledging that the social safety nets, like Medicare and Medicaid, will need to take into account limited resources, populist liberalism must regard them not as weak links, catering to "takers" but rather ones that strengthen the collective.

The call to this populist liberalism by Obama includes a need to protect the collective and the global commons against the ravages of climate change and the imperative to stay competitive in the global marketplace. The call includes a re-commitment to the core values of liberal internationalism that includes working with allies in the cause of sustainable peace, democracy, the rule of law and assistance to the most vulnerable of the global community.

Obama adopts Martin Luther King's advocacy that the freedom of all members of the human family are inextricably linked. The call to arms for a reinvigorated liberalism must be inclusive of all in an increasingly diverse society without discrimination on sexual orientation, hopeful immigrants and all who wish to create a better life for themselves regardless of where fortune places them in the lottery of birth and life. Obama's call to arms finishes with a plea to the collective that all citizens have as much an obligation to shape the debates of the time and defend society's most enduring ideals as the President.

The inaugural speech gave a warning between the lines to his opponents in the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party that he will take on those who seek to name call rather than unite and will not be afraid to take on their sacred cows, including gun control to prevent the horrors of the killing of children and other innocents.

President Obama's liberal warrior call happens at the same time as the Liberal Party of Canada seeks not only a new leader, but also to reclaim its place as the alternative to the hard right government of Stephen Harper that has more in common with the hard right of the Republican Party than the Progressive Conservative Party of Diefenbaker, Joe Clark and Mulroney.

Now relegated to third party status, the Liberal Party is also in need for a call to arms for a populist liberalism. Echoes of Obama's focus on the middle class are found within Justin Trudeau's focus on the growing inequality in Canada that is reducing rapidly the ranks of the middle class. Like U.S. President, Trudeau is asserting that preventing the fall in employment, living standards and salaries of the middle class is vital to the economic and competitive position of Canada.

Obama's focus on the need for an inclusive society is echoed in Trudeau's frequent attacks on the Harper Conservatives politics of divisions that pits regions and sectors of society against each other, while his supporters relative youth and appeal to the multicultural communities of Canada will be a powerful counterweight to the instrumentalist and frenetic machinations of Jason Kenney and his colleagues in the "very ethnic" communities.

The former Cabinet Minister and Liberal member of Quebec's National Assembly, Thomas Mulcair, now leader of the NDP will no doubt claim his party can rally around the values and inclusiveness promoted by Obama in the second inaugural address, but he is precluded from using the Liberalism cloak, now that he has shed it and is attempting to move his formerly more radical left-wing party to the centre of the spectrum.

In the lead up to the next federal election in 2015, Canada may well be hearing echoes of President Obama's second inaugural address in the speeches and other forms of communications of Justin Trudeau and his supporters, if he is elected as leader of the Liberal Party in April.