Evaluation: The inaugural speech

A commentator wrote that he expected President Obama to say something in his inaugural speech that “would be worthy of being carved into marble.” This was an unfair expectation, but Obama’s speech offered plenty to inspire.

Like any good speech, President Obama’s reached out to several audiences. To Americans who are worried about their jobs and future, he promised swift action but urged for patience for it to take effect. To the Muslim world, he promised that America would take a “new way forward” after years of policies that only fueled extremists. He sought to reassure conservatives by tapping into American history and traditional values while assuring progressives that he would reject Bush administration policies. For example, he said, “[W]e reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals” in regards to national security.

Some have commented that President Obama’s speech didn’t have a snappy one liner, such as “Ask not what your country can do for you…” or “The only thing we have to fear…” His quote from Scripture comes close, “[T]he time has come to set aside childish things.” To me, that line best summarizes the direction he wants the nation to go: To set aside partisanship, selfishness, and self-indulgence and be willing to work and sacrifice for the good of the country. He affirmed his message at the end, “Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.” If any words from the inaugural are carved into marble, those would be the ones.

As much as I enjoyed the speech and President Obama’s eloquence, the speech didn’t strike me as particularly stirring. His election night speech was more passionate. But I wonder how many people who listened to Kennedy’s inaugural address on January 20, 1961 felt it was as historic as it was eventually regarded to be. Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was considered a failure and was criticized by some reporters as flat and dull. Only history will tell whether Obama’s inaugural speech will stand with Lincoln’s, Roosevelt’s, or Kennedy’s among the best of all time.