As a master orator, Obama faced expectations for his inaugural speech that were infused with the stratospheric hopes of his audience. Reporters were panting to print the phrase for the ages surely to pass from his lips. If one more reference were made to FDR's first inaugural address, Roosevelt would start to fear that his famous phrase had run amok.
But we seem to have all forgotten that the now ubiquitous "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself" was utterly and completely ignored by newspapers and radio the day after FDR's speech. Reports at the time focused on FDR's call for what can only be called dictatorial powers. Only later did the true meaning of his words gain currency and relevance as FDR calmed the roiling waters of economic depression and faced the gathering troubles of war.
The immediate conclusion from talking heads following Obama's speech was that he failed to deliver. He was said to have made a "somber" speech, a serious discussion but one lacking a phrase that would last through time. This punditry train left the station, and nearly every commentator jumped on board. The only problem is that they are wrong, just as reporters were wrong following FDR's historic address. I offer you some excerpts that I believe will shine through history's reflective lens:
"Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms."
"On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord."
"...what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage."
"As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals."
"...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."
"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."
"We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense."
"...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."
"...we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united."
"...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."
"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."
"...we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist."
"...nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect."
"...hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism -- these things are old. These things are true."
"...we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly..."
"...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."
"..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."
"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..."
"...we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations...."
These are deeply meaningful words, appropriate for our times and right for the ages. The pundits are wrong; Obama gave a great speech that history will judge as such.
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