Thoughts on the Inaugural Address

oiaPresident Obama’s inaugural address was not one for all time, but one for our times. While critics have said it wasn’t his best, comparing it to his speeches on the campaign trail, or to the inaugural addresses of former Presidents serves no purpose. His global address was not intended to inspire – he’s already accomplished that mission. Nor was the speech designed to spread goodwill. I believe he saw the need to capitalize on the feeling of hope, inspiration, energy, and the spirit of goodwill that has been in such abundant display here and abroad since the election. Rather than inspire with another lofty public address, Obama’s goal was to lay out his assessment of the challenges ahead and to provide a set of instructions, a prescription for all to follow. It is no accident that he used the word we 46 times. We the people. Shared responsibility.

Despite the “gathering clouds and raging storms” around us, we know what to do – “We the People” have been there before and we must and can carry on.

Interestingly, he and his speech writer decided against a frontal attack on enemies, never naming them – no direct reference to rogue leaders, or unfriendly nations. No Axis of Evil. No specific mention of any terrorist group. However, a new reference surfaced to replace the War on Terrorism – now we are at war with the Network of Violence and Hatred“. I like this euphemistic phrasing better because it suggests a clear alternative – peace and love.

Nor did he choose to assign specific blame for other ills that plague our nation. No mention of Wall Street, corporate greed and corruption, deregulation, dependence on foreign oil and other policies that favor the business class, over the middle class. He carefully described our crisis using passive verb constructions – “our economy is badly weakened….homes have been lost, jobs shed, businesses shuttered”, saying only that our problems are the result of “greed and irresponsibility on the part of some” and “our collective failure to make hard choices”. On this point, though, I disagree. I don’t think that most of you reading this feel responsible for the recession or feel like if only you had not been so greedy and had made a hard choice your retirement plan might not have lost half its value.

But I do agree that collectively we can meet the challenges ahead – to restore our image and credibility abroad so that we can be an agent of peace, not war; “to restore science to its rightful place”; “to harness the sun and the winds”; to bring relief to people of impoverished nations “to make farms flourish and “clean waters flow… to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds”. Perhaps this means a renewed financial commitment to the Peace Corps to embrace and expand the “spirit of service”?

And to those “nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to the suffering outside our borders.” And here, I am in complete agreement. Down with the fences. Let’s create a humane immigration policy to allow our brothers and sisters “in search of a new life” the right to safely cross our southern border to live, work and prosper in this great nation of ours; this nation of immigrants. “For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness”.

There are many challenges ahead which require thoughtful debate, shared responsibility and decisive action. Together we can, we must and we will. That is what he said. That is what President Barack Obama said.


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