We all knew we were in for something completely different when the inauguration of self-described “progressive” Bill de Blasio as New York’s mayor began with a keynote from pro-Communist activist Harry Belafonte

“We will be no longer a divided city,” he proclaimed as he compared today’s New York to a “Dickensian” nightmare, as departing mayor Mike Bloomberg looked on stone-faced. “We can become America’s DNA for the future.”…

The speeches finally over, the crowd went into City Hall to celebrate the arrival of the New Progressivism. I noted that Bertha Lewis, the former national head of the scandal-ridden ACORN “community-organizing” group, was an honored guest. Last fall, the New York Post reported that, according to a Democratic insider, ACORN had long sought to put de Blasio into the mayor’s office. “Without exaggeration, ACORN’s long-range plan since 2001 was to elect de Blasio mayor,” the insider said. “De Blasio was a big ACORN project.”

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Broadway star Patina Miller sang a wistful version of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” crowing: “Imagine no possessions. I wonder if you can.”

“The people are back in power,” the actress Susan Sarandon said ahead of the ceremony on the steps of City Hall Wednesday.

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“We are called to put an end to economic and social inequalities that threaten to unravel the city we love,” [Bill de Blasio] said in his inauguration speech. He called to mind the Occupy Wall Street movement, saying he would expand community health centers “so that New Yorkers see our city not as the exclusive domain of the One Percent, but a place where everyday people can afford to live, work, and raise a family.”

The unabashedly liberal tone of de Blasio’s inauguration was notable not just for the politics it forecasts, but for what it seems to say about how he intends to lead. While some politicians choose an open-arms approach to the start of their tenure (recall President Obama’s 2008 victory speech, when he said to conservatives “I will be your president, too”), de Blasio’s message was stridently liberal. He appears unafraid to anger his opposition, unabashed at being at the center of a resurgent liberal movement, and fairly uncompromising in his positions.

“I know there are those who think that what I said during the campaign was just rhetoric, just ‘political talk’ in the interest of getting elected,” de Blasio said in his speech. “So let me be clear. When I said we would take dead aim at the Tale of Two Cities, I meant it.”

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After that low point, the grim tone was echoed by speaker after speaker, from Public Advocate Letitia James to a youth poet laureate who pitted people in brownstones (many of whom live down the street from de Blasio) against people with brown skin.

In their eyes, the New York of today is not just a place where many people struggle mightily to make ends meet — of course it is — but a giant gladiator arena where wealthy people in glittering suites watch and laugh while the less fortunate fight to the death for scraps

Bloomberg may personally have worn out his welcome in his third term, but many of us — half, if you believe polls — think the city is on the right track.

Hardly anyone spoke for us Wednesday.

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Mayor Bill de Blasio today defended the controversial comments made by many of his inauguration speakers, including one cleric who described New York City as a “plantation.”

“I am very comfortable with everyone’s remarks yesterday and I think the ceremony represented the positive aspiration of New Yorkers for a more just city,” he told reporters today after swearing in his new Police Commissioner, Bill Bratton, at a ceremony at 1 Police Plaza.

Many of the speakers at Mr. de Blasio’s event yesterday, including civil rights activist Harry Belafonte, Rev. Fred Lucas Jr. and Public Advocate Tish James, raised eyebrows for portraying the city in what many observers described as divisive terms. “Let the plantation called New York City be the city of God,” Mr. Lucas invoked, for example.

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[H]e did in his inauguration what Obama didn’t: He promised to stay true to his detailed and ideological agenda…

A de Blasio aide dismissed the idea that his inauguration was shadowed by Obama’s, or by the common progressive critique of Obama’s first term — that he lost his base, and gained little, by reaching to the center, and that he tried to court rather than forcing compromise.

But the inauguration sent that clear signal: de Blasio will demand, not request, the support of his natural enemies — the finance industry; some real estate developers; veterans of the Bloomberg administration.

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For a long time, the American conversation has been terribly distorted because an active, uncompromising political right has not had to face a comparably influential left. As a result, our entire debate has been dragged in a conservative direction, meaning that the center has been pulled that way, too…

[T]he new militancy on the Democratic left is a consequence of a slowly building backlash against the skewed nature of our politics. A dramatic manifestation of this sentiment was New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s unabashed attack on inequality in his inaugural address Wednesday…

More generally, the Democratic left is animated by the battle against growing inequality and declining social mobility — the idea, as Warren has said repeatedly, that “the system is rigged for powerful interests and against working families.” She and her allies are not anti-capitalist. Their goal is to reform the system so it spreads its benefits more widely. Warren has argued that everything she’s done on behalf of financial reform has, in fact, been designed to make markets work better.

The resurgent progressives are battling a double standard. They are asking why it is that “populism” is a good thing when it’s invoked by the tea party against “liberal elites” but suddenly a bad thing when it describes efforts to raise the minimum wage and take other steps toward a fairer system of economic rewards.

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One is that the liberal movement suddenly has a pair of emerging stars who sit in positions of immense power. That was not the case as recently as 2012.

Secondly, liberals now face some key tests as a result of their newfound strength…

De Blasio will not only be closely watched in New York. Being mayor means drawing a national spotlight that most governors will never even experience. His swearing-in means the platform that the left has embraced, even outside the boundaries of the Big Apple, will be put to the test in a major way.

If his agenda proves popular, it will mean good news for the liberal movement more broadly. If not, then it’ll be bad news for liberals — even those who reside outside the five boroughs.

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De Blasio has become a beacon to those in the Democratic Party’s progressive wing, who have often been disappointed by or disillusioned with President Obama and what he has done and not done in office. The progressives see few political leaders on the left — Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is one exception — willing to give voice to their agenda. All that would be enough to lend significance to Wednesday’s swearing-in. But it was the added presence of the former president and former secretary of state that gave it significance beyond the city’s boundaries…

At some point, should she run, Hillary Clinton, who did not speak publicly at the ceremonies, will have to sort all this out. She will be asked to explain more precisely where she stands on issues of income inequality, economic growth, spending, taxes, entitlements and the trade-offs that will face the next president.

Will she be able to be true to the New Democrat ideals that brought her husband to power and also accommodate the energy pulsing through the party’s progressive wing? The answers should begin to come later this year, as she nears a decision about whether to run.

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Of course, I know that our progressive vision isn’t universally shared. Some on the far right continue to preach the virtue of trickle-down economics. They believe that the way to move forward is to give more to the most fortunate, and that somehow the benefits will work their way down to everyone else. They sell their approach as the path of “rugged individualism.”

But Fiorello La Guardia — the man I consider to be the greatest Mayor this city has ever known — put it best. He said: “I, too, admire the ‘rugged individual,’ but no ‘rugged individual’ can survive in the midst of collective starvation.”

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“A lot of times, inaugurals are times when people, when presidents, or mayors, or governors can reach out to critics, reach out to those who maybe didn’t vote for him,” Tapper added. “This was not that.”