Hello there. Seeing as how Barack Obama’s Presidental Inauguration speech is by far the single most inspiring and wonderful thing I have ever heard said by a politician, I wanted to offer my quick analysis of what it all meant. President Obama is clearly an intelligent man - a refreshing change! - and it was really for my own benefit that I wanted to break his speech down, look at each section in turn, and offer my thoughts on what he was saying.
Now I’m not pretending this is a detailed, scientific, comprehensive analysis of all the facts, figures and whatnot raised by his speech. Rather its an attempt to offer commentary on the themes he mentions; the veiled (justified) barbs at certain individuals and groups, and his visions of a better future for the world.
OK here we go. Below is a transcript of the complete speech President Obama delivered at his inauguration. My comments are in blue and enclosed in dotted lines beneath each section of his speech. Enjoy.
My fellow citizens:
I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.
Here he acknowledges he does indeed have a big task ahead of him; and he gives a polite but fairly cursory acknowledgement of the outgoing President Bush. Hee hee.
Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.
So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.
That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.
These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land — a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.
A fairly damning indictment of Bush’s eight years in office. In fact he really puts the boot into him here in my opinion, pretty much implying that as a result of Bush’s presidency America’s economy is in a sorry state of disrepair. Also this is a fairly wide-ranging and frank summary of all the major issues that ail the US presently - the health care system, the education system, dependence on fossil fuels, etc, all of which frankly is well-known to those of us outside the US.
Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America — they will be met. On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord. On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.
Here he states his determination to get on with the task of repairing America and that these things though they may be challenging they can indeed be done. He is also trying to gain bipartisan support for these changes, that in the face of undeniable evidence all must acknowledge need to be made.
We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.
He references the addiction to consumerism and the more indulgent aspects of Western culture. He also states the need for all people to re-awaken to the real mission of America; not to provide a comfortable living for a few, but opportunity and freedom for all.
In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling-for-less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted — for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.
For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.
For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.
For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sanh. Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.
He reminds us that those who toiled for America worked for a greater cause than individual gain, and that these were the people who birthed the powerful and prosperous nation we see today. He returns to this theme again and again; that America is not for the faint-hearted, nor for the self-indulgent; but that it has been forged through hardship and sacrifice so that all may benefit.
This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions — that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.
Again, a strong restatement that America remains powerful and is unified in this sense of new mission, and not just there to provide riches for the few.
For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act — not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.
Stating that with today’s knowledge and technological abilities, surely health care & education can now be improved?! Also a bold statement about harnessing “new” energies - solar, wind and improving the soil (possibly referring to organic or biodynamic farming? Whatever it is I’m completely for it!).
Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions — who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.
Brilliant - here he is addressing the cynicism that in the face of social improvement was once inevitable, and he reminds us that in its history America has already achieved the impossible - creating a new nation out of the most intense oppression.
What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them — that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works — whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account — to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day — because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.
Wow. Here Obama applies the scalpel of necessity to government itself - he points out that those who hold outdated views are no longer even in the game. Excellent!! He sets his intention to cut programs that do not support the positive changes he wants to make - possibly a shot at the military-industrial complex and the fat cats? Also his resolve to make government more transparent and wiser in its spending. You go, sir.
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.
Here he affirms his belief in the market, but one that is regulated so as to not allow irresponsibility. A fair call, I’d say.
As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.
Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.
Pointing out that it was ideals combined with necessity & a desire for self-protection that drove the founding fathers to create a new nation.
We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort — even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.
Again setting some visionary goals; to pull a Superman and reduce the nuclear threat around the world, to withdraw from Iraq and to settle the score in Afghanistan. A firm declaration that terrorists and killers will be finally defeated. Hmm…..perhaps one thing at a time, eh, Big O? Possibly this was said to placate the slavering right-wingers, so they don’t assume he’s gonna be soft on so-called threats to America. This for me is the only part of his speech that sounded like the same old tired war rhetoric. Oh well - I guess he had to say it didn’t he.
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; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.
Again reminding us of what the US has already accomplished in its history of struggle.
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.
More visionary agenda-setting; that America will be a friend to those seeking peaceful means of progress, but an iron fist to those who seek other means. Clever line about the people judging their leaders by what they build - nice. And so true.
To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.
This surely is a reference to the country of his father’s birth - Africa. A stark reminder too to Americans who have lived life large for so long, that America must now be there for others in need. Phew! God bless him for wanting to accomplish all this! And why not - its about time someone came forward with these intentions. I too believe we can no longer afford to be ignorant of human suffering and of environmental danger. Obama rocks!
As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages.
We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment — a moment that will define a generation — it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.
An acknowledgement of those who have fallen in service to the nation, and those currently in the armed forces who serve and protect in dangerous lands. A nice gesture, surely appreciated by those people serving.
For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter’s courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent’s willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.
This is probably my favourite part of his speech. It resontaes with my belief that it is everthing we do, as individuals, in our small moments every day, that spreads like a ripple through the collective and truly makes our world. We the people have it in our power to shape the future and determine which way things will go. Here Obama reminds us that it is not just government, but each one of us that holds the new age in our hands if we are but willing to extend kindness.
Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends — hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition, on the part of every American, 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.
This is the price and the promise of citizenship.
This is the source of our confidence — the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.
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.
This passage sums up everything he has said previously; he reminds us that while the tasks ahead may involve new challenges, the spirit in which we meet those challenges is indeed timeless. For it is to the enduring idealism of America that Obama harks back throughout his speech, while simultaneously calling all of us - around the world - forth to the exciting and brave new age. Not the new world order of previous Presidents, mind you; the new age!
So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America’s birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:
“Let it be told to the future world…that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive…that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it].’
Just in case anyone missed the point of everything he has just said.
America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. 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.
The final rallying call to all of us. Here he again calls us all to action; to live out his vision of the new age. And he reminds us that God has been and is always with us.
Thank you. God bless you. And God bless the United States of America.