Anyone can speak better when the pressure is taken off. The same is true for a president.
President Obama had high expectations for his first inaugural address. People expected it to be on the par of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s, John F. Kennedy’s, or Ronald Reagan’s, so anything less would have been a disappointment. This time around, President Obama didn’t have that pressure, so he was able to let loose with a more passionate, forceful, and eloquent speech.
As with his first inaugural speech, President Obama didn’t give any memorable catchphrases or lines worthy of being engraved in marble. He clearly stated his goals for the coming term and how they tied to American values. One thing President Obama made clear is the importance of national unity at a time of rancorous discord. Throughout his speech, he repeated one word: together. This passage shows it perfectly:
We made ourselves anew, and vowed to move forward together.
Together, we determined that a modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce; schools and colleges to train our workers.
Together, we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play.
Together, we resolved that a great nation must care for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.
Though President Obama didn’t do it directly, he did demonstrate how the concept of “together” contrasts with partisanship or the Randist idea that everyone is on their own:
For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it…
We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit. But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future…
We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.
Where President Obama became powerful and poetic was in the “Our journey is not complete” section of the speech. I feel he approached Martin Luther King’s level in building passion and drama. Barack Obama is a cool politician, not a passionate minister like Martin Luther King. Still, it was good to see emotion and conviction from President Obama. I was especially touched by the last statement of that section, “Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for, and cherished, and always safe from harm.” Especially since this came from a father.
For me, the power of President Obama’s second inaugural speech came from his ability to be himself. He didn’t feel he needed to amaze his supporters, appease his opponents, or appeal to the history books. I think that’s what we want from our leaders, to know who they are and what they stand for. This is why I consider President Obama’s second inaugural speech a success.