Obama's inaugural speech is now a part of history--as is Rick Warren's invocation, which I found bothersome more for its annoying dullness than its exclusionary evangelism. From reading through the text of Obama's speech after watching it, I note that after his second-sentence nod to Dubya ("I thank President Bush for his service to our nation") it's all about contrasting past failures with present resolve:
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. [...]
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.
...our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions - that time has surely passed.
After a nicely blunt remark that "We will restore science to its rightful place" and a graceful acknowledgment of non-religious Americans,
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...
he really hit his stride with this forceful statement of liberal pragmatism:
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.
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...
Another passage at once reaffirmed Franklin's remark about liberty and security while demolishing the Bushevik rationalization for spying and lying:
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.
In another reference to the Founding era, Obama quoted from Thomas Paine's The American Crisis #1, although he didn't mention Paine's name:
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]."
Charles Lemos at MyDD also noted the quote's source, and called The American Crisis "perhaps the second most important piece of political essay writing, because of its immediate impact, in American history:"
It can be said that it saved the Revolution. The only other work of greater importance in the annals of American political essay writing is also from Paine. Common Sense stands apart in the annals of American political essays for the forty-seven page pamphlet published in January 1776 presented the argument for independence from British rule at a time when the question of independence was still undecided.
At Campaign for America's Future, Bill Scher calls Obama's speech "A Liberal Inaugural Address," and observes that:
"Obama starts his presidency on the highest of notes, with stunning approval and public goodwill, on the basis of the liberal vision he continually offered the voters during the campaign, and reiterated with dazzling poetry and sturdy prose today."
Obama's rhetoric may not have been quite as masterful as FDR's or as soaring as JFK's, but it was the right speech for the right time; let us hope that his presidency will be the same.