Not Poetry…Obama’s Inauguration Speech

I’m still a little awestruck from yesterday. The significance of the day simply seizes up the gears in my brain. I mean just…WOW! No matter what you think of President Obama’s politics he has made history and that is fact. Rather than comment on the day itself I’m going to focus on the Obama’s speech.

Some complained the speech did not have the echoes of the greats. Many said it lacked the poetry of speeches by Lincoln, FDR, Kennedy, or MLK Jr. All of those great men were there yesterday in Obama’s speech. Obama gave us what we needed most in his speech, not style that would leave us hungry, but substance to energize us.

One can almost break down Obama’s speech by influence. Though it wasn’t an inauguration speech, Obama used a tone similar to Reagan’s “Tear down this wall” when speaking of our enemies.

“To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West — know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.” – Obama

“We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” – Reagan

Though the Soviets were a vastly different beast than Al-Qaeda and international terrorists, the message is the same. Join us in peace for good the global community that is how we will prosper. Both speeches also place us solidly in the moral high ground. It is in the opposition’s hands to take the olive branch we are extending. President Obama made an excellent diplomatic move here.

Obama recalls Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Lincoln in his speech. Both MLK and Lincoln called for a united America. Obama spoke on the struggles we faced as a nation in the past citing slavery, the Civil War, and the fight for civil rights. “We have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united”. Obama invokes the memory of MLK’s “I have a dream” speech, profoundly noting how far we have come and how that empowers us all to overcome anything.

“This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed — why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent Mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.”

Obama boldly acknowledge our shared history as a uniting factor, not a dividing one.

“For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth”

This statement is truly historic. Who could have dreamed that after 9/11 and the paranoia set on us by the Bush administration that we would have a president stating we are not only a Protestant nation. We are not a white nation. He even added non-believers, which to me is fantastic to hear after the near religious fanaticism that Bush inspired. The implications of Obama’s statement will push those not interested in joining together and being part of the solution farther away and bring the rest of us that much closer together.

Kennedy and Roosevelt’s speeches also clearly influenced Obama. In FDR’s first inaugural speech he lashed out at the financial institutions for pushing the country into a depression.

“Primarily this is because rulers of the exchange of mankind’s goods have failed through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence, have admitted their failure, and have abdicated. Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men.”

Obama too sites greed and abuse of the market as causes for our current crisis.

“Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control — and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart — not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.”

Kennedy, one could argue, influenced Obama the most in his speech. In his inaugural address Kennedy called for smart diplomacy and firm opposition to those unwilling to negotiate, “Let every nation know… that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” Kennedy also understood that a new generation would be taking up the call to service, “Let the word go forth…..that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans.” Perhaps the most famous line in a speech brimming with them, Kennedy called Americans to service for their country, “And so my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” Kennedy also acknowledged that the work would not be completed overnight, “All this will not be finished in the first 100 days. Nor will it be finished in the first 1,000 days, nor in the life of this Administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.”

Obama hits on all of these points in his speech. Many I have already highlighted, but Obama comes back to the “call to service” often in his speech. This highlights Obama’s philosophy of government. We citizens are the government. We are the nation. The government is only a part of that nation. Working in conjunction with the government we can, and will, accomplish great things.

I look to the future with great anticipation. I have felt the call to help make this country a better place. Undoubtedly many others have too. After hearing Obama’s speech yesterday no one can deny that while there are rough times ahead we will preserve and emerge from the fray even stronger.


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