So the moment has passed; the address is delivered. It will be remembered, probably not as one of the best, but certainly as one of the most consequential. Everyone will take their own piece of it with them. Here’s what I took.
The most heart-stirring line, coming near the end of the speech, captured the day: “This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed … 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.”
A statement that I think will resonate with Americans these days – a post-partisan statement if ever there was one: “The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works.”
And the call to Americans that formed the speech’s theme: “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.”
Largely the speech was an effort to set the current times and trials in the larger flow of American history. President Obama spoke of “a return to these truths” … “remembrance of who we are and how far we have traveled” … “our patchwork heritage” … “the keepers of this legacy” … and our duty to “carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation.”
And he delivered a classicly (can that be said yet?) Obaman statement: “[T]hose values upon which our success depends … these things are old. These things are true.”
At other times, the president exhibited nuanced rhetorical skill, speaking of balancing the extraordinarily beneficial power of markets with the need to keep them from “spinning out of control.” And in a line that offered the clearest break from the leftiest elements of his party, the president said, “We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense.”
On that note, it struck my ears that Obama specifically referenced “wavering,” “rising tides of prosperity,” and the “prudent” use of power – words associated with the last three Republican presidents.
President Obama also addressed his newest constituency – the world. Softly: “[K]now 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.” And with force: “[F]or 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.”
Overall, the speech was solid, inspired at moments, and left everyone with a clear sense of what the new president wants for the country and the world.
Though I still think Obama’s best speech was the speech on race he delivered in Philadelphia last spring. The speech that may have made this one possible.