Without question, the single most surprising passage–not so much in its existence, but in its length, central placement, and unambiguous language–in the president’s second inaugural address involved climate change:

We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.

Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But American cannot resist this transition. We must lead it.

We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries. We must claim its promise. That’s how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure, our forests and waterways, our crop lands and snow capped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.

Critics will say Obama wouldn’t have dared utter those words during the 2012 presidential campaign–particularly the final weeks when it sometimes seemed the presidency would be determined almost entirely by the coal counties of Virginia and Ohio. But this is what second terms in office are for, and although we have no particular evidence Obama will (or can) make action on climate change a presidency-defining priority, he’s certainly off to a good start in simple truth-telling.

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Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.