Barack Obama gave an 18-minute Inauguration Address that seemed to leave many feeling that he did not live up to expectations because they didn’t hear poetry. Two commentators on PBS nodded to each other that, yes, it was a good speech but it was not a great speech. Not one of his best. David Brooks declared that the definition of a great speech was one that was quotable and that there were no “quotable lines” in Obama’s speech. Well, it is a good many hours since Obama made this speech, and I have now heard it at least three or four times and also read the transcript. Now that the printed comments on the speech are coming in, I see that a good number of people, both professional writers and readers seemed inclined to quote lines that resonated with them. I don’t blame them. Each time I heard the speech, it was better and better.
The New York Times on their online front page quoted: “We cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve.”
—From the Inaugural Speech
It caught my ear that Obama did not begin addressing the crowd with “My Fellow Americans,” but rather “my fellow citizens,” and I believe that was an important point to note, for he gave us a call to citizenship, emphasizing the responsibilities of citizenship and how historically it has been citizens responding to crucial times have meant the difference between success and failure, as he points out our current “collective failure to make hard choices.”
For those who didn’t hear poetry in Obama’s words, consider the following:
We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. 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.
My own contender for what remains memorable to me from Obama’s speech include the following lines, which I expect to hear quoted by others in the future:
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.
Yes, I found the speech quotable, but more than that, the essence of the address becoming stronger with each reading is to me the confirmation of a great speech. I suspect that the two people on CNN who said that his words would soon be forgotten may be in for a surprise. This moving address may join the very short list of Inaugural addresses to be remembered.