January 25, 2009 | Did we hear the same speech? After hearing Obama's inaugural address the first time (live) and the second time (replayed during our quiet little inauguration celebration that night) I was ready to pronounce it near perfect in content, in delivery, in effect. To my chagrin, many pundits and speech mavens were less effusive in their praise.
While some complained that the speech didn't "soar" and "lacked poetry," I thought the serious tone and plain prose perfectly suited to the times. It was the speech of someone serious about governing in serious times. Of course, if the speech had been more poetic, high-flown if you will, those same people would have been dismissing it as airy, idealistic, and "just words."
Whereas some found the speech lacking a theme, I heard a powerful theme, powerfully stated: Change has come; we're going to do things differently. There was no doubt about the rebuke to Bush/Cheney:
The speech was a very stylish slap-down, and it warmed my heart that Bush and Cheney had to sit there and hear it. I think the phrase is "speaking truth to power." It's just too bad it couldn't have been done eight years ago.
In contrast to an era when the President exhorted us to "go shopping" in the face of disaster, Obama told us it is time to "pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America." Instead of self-indulgence and every-man-for-himself, Obama reminded us "that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character than giving our all to a difficult task." He called it the "price and the promise of citizenship."
In contrast to the braying about the United States being "a Christian nation," Obama reminded us that we are "a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers." Sure, he started with "Christians" but by coupling them with "Muslims" — equating Muslims with Christians — and by ending the list with "nonbelievers," Obama recognized that freedom of religion includes the freedom not to believe. Hallelujah!
Instead of the usual laundry list of programs in so many inaugural speeches, Obama laid out the broader principles and policies that will shape his administration.
And, in one of the most artful passages of his speech, Obama acknowledged the historic and cultural significance of his inauguration with a quiet observation that "a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath."
There's a reason that almost 2 million people packed themselves into the Mall to be present at Obama's inauguration: we're sick and tired of the Bush years, and we think there's hope that Obama can do things differently.
Every day, and in every way since his election, Obama has shown that he is all about governing. By contrast, Bush was all about power — how to get it, how to keep it, how to get more of it.
As for all those Republicans who are now suddenly born-again fiscal conservatives, I say they need to pull their heads out of the sand and realize they are on the wrong side of history.
Last updated on Jul 14, 2016