Obama's Call to Choose Our Better History

02/21/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In President Obama's brilliant, deeply felt Inaugural Address, we find echoes of the great speeches of the past: the acknowledgment of challenge and trepidation from FDR, the call to service of JFK, the assertion of strength within a context of justice of Ronald Reagan. President Obama's rhetoric, as we expected, reached back to the cadences of Lincoln, and tied those together with the soaring voice of King. It was a dignified, thoughtful speech -- worthy of the great orator who delivered it and appropriate to our perilous times.

As I listened to the speech, I was fascinated by how this candidate of change, of "yes we can," carefully wove the work ahead back into the fabric of American history:

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.

President Obama hopes to inspire risk takers and innovators, but he also wants us to "choose our better history," to find, as Emerson might have said, our best selves in the service of a better community.

Choosing our better history also means rejecting the policies of recent years that undermined our constitution and our community. In forceful terms unusual in an Inaugural Address, our new president rejected "as false the choice between our safety and our ideals." The "rule or law and the rights of man" remain our precious guide, and, contrary to the tactics of fear of the last eight years, "we will not give them up for expedience's sake."

The candidate of change reached beyond recent ideological battles to the deeper currents of our traditions to become a president of inclusion. And inclusion can be inspired by a shared vision of history - a vision that will allow us to build a common future:

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.

President Obama would have us face the challenges of our time by going beyond our self-interest to re-discovery the legacy we have in common. As we start a new era, he stressed, "let us mark this day with remembrance." By "returning to these truths" of our history, President Obama has asked us to reshape our destiny.