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01-21-09, 09:59 PM #1
Obama's Inauguration Speech, Deconstructed
There was no JFK ‘ask not' moment during Tuesday's solemn inaugural address. But there were plenty of resounding echoes -- and a few presidential firsts. With the help of oratory experts Peter Pober of George Mason University and Gerald Shuster of University of Pittsburgh, the National Post's Craig Offman catches the sly references and flourishes that mark Barack Obama's signature style.
Selected excerpts from Obama's speech and commentary:
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 co-operation he has shown throughout this transition.
An incoming president praising his predecessor is a rarity. This might have to do with a seamless transition–in contrast to the previous hand-off in which Bill Clinton's team was accused of office subterfuge, such as destroying office equipment.
The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace.
An allusion to the phrase that "a rising tide lifts all boats," which is often attributed to JFK, who defended his tax cuts with this analogy.
Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.
Words used by Abraham Lincoln in an early speech, borrowed from John Newton hymn: "The gathering clouds, with aspect dark. A rising storm presage." Newton is also the guy who wrote Amazing Grace.
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.
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.
Channelling Ronald Reagan, who said, "We are not, as some would have us believe, doomed to an inevitable decline."
We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things ...
A reference to the country, but also a reference to those who helped get him elected, and the people in the crowd. The following reference to Scripture comes from 1 Corinthians 13:11 (and perhaps the address's only direct quote): "When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things."
Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things - some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labour, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.
For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and travelled 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 ploughed the hard earth.
For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.
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.
Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions - who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans.
Alludes to those who toil on the literal and figurative frontier. Rhetorically speaking, Obama likes threes. Notice the upcoming repetition to thank those who helped build the nation; referring to immigrants, again, to be as inclusive as possible. The bit about the sweatshops is a solemn nod to slavery of all forms.
The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works ...
At his own inauguration address in 1983, Ronald Reagan floated what would become a common Republican refrain. "In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem." In a State of the Union message 15 years later, Bill Clinton proclaimed that "the era of big government is over."
As for our common defence, 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 ...
Succinct repudiation of the Bush Administration's prosecution of suspects in the War on Terror.
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 ...
This position echoes what the outgoing president said at a debate in Iowa when he was running for the top job in 2000: "If we're an arrogant nation, they'll resent us. If we're a humble nation, but strong, they'll welcome us.... Our nation stands alone right now ... in terms of power."
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.
Mr. Obama is very much establishing his credentials here as a hawkish liberal in the mold of JFK. It's an echo of his principle that a country never negotiates out of fear, but does not fear negotiations.
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 ...
I can't remember an inaugural address that referenced atheists. Mr. Obama is also acknowledging Hindus, an unusual nod.
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 ...
He is saying to the Muslim world that he does not see extremist leaders as their representatives.
[W]hen 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]." 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.
Passage from Thomas Paine's The Crisis, which was read to troops in the despondent hours of the Revolutionary War. An outspoken advocate of the abolition of slaves, Mr. Paine was largely ostracized. Mr. Obama is rhetorically linking that dark, challenging winter in U.S. history to the one it faces today.
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.
This is the price and the promise of citizenship.
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.
So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have travelled. 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]."
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.
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