Inaugural Address: Pedestrian

posted at 3:30 pm on January 20, 2009 by Ed Morrissey

I did watch the inauguration and the inaugural address today, while eschewing the rest of the circus.  I especially wanted to watch the Inaugural Address, to see what kind of challenges and tone President Barack Obama would set for the nation.  Few speeches can live up to the hype of any inauguration, and given the hype overload for this one, Obama didn’t stand a chance.

Interestingly, the massive crowd seemed dissatisfied with Obama’s speech.  He didn’t get much reaction at the applause lines despite a wildly enthusiastic crowd of at least 2 million people.  In perusing the speech — I followed the text while Obama delivered it — it’s easy to see why.  Nothing remarkable got said today, or at least nothing we haven’t heard a thousand times already from the campaign trail.

It’s not that it was bad; Obama did a good job in delivering it, and it has some commendable passages about America and its people.  It’s just rather pedestrian.  Commentators are already noting that practically any president or presidential candidate could credibly have delivered this speech, from Nixon to Carter to Reagan to Clinton to McCain.  It’s a generic speech, lacking in specific vision from Obama.

Of course, that may have been by design.  Obama said he wanted to take the divisions out of politics, and one way to do that is to offer speeches with no points for later debate.  Put goals in general enough terms, and everyone buys into them.  Unfortunately, that’s meaningless politically.  We all want peace and prosperity, with abundant energy and healthy children.  The problem is how we best achieve those goals, and that’s where the debate is — and what Obama avoided today.

Perhaps that was by design.   Maybe Obama wanted to defuse the opposition and defang his own supporters, at least for a few days.  That may not be a bad idea, but in the long run, the debate over specific goals, priorities, and policies will occur.  This speech did not boldly engage on any level.

Full text follows:

=============

My fellow citizens:

I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.

So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans. That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. 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. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our healthcare is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land — a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America — they will be met.

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.

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.

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted — for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.

For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.

Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions — that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act — not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise healthcare’s quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.

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 — whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account — to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day — because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control — and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our Gross Domestic Product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart — not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

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. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: 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. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that 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 are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort — even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and 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.

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; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe 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; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West — know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. 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.

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment — a moment that will define a generation — it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.

For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job, which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter’s courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent’s willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

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. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. 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.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

This is the source of our confidence — the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.

This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed — why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. 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].”

America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. 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; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.


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Comment pages: 1 2

F**k this RACIST swine Obama Hussein and his ape looking, lumbering wife.

dinkyjackson on January 20, 2009 at 4:08 PM

Kosification of the right continues unabated and its only been one day.

DeathToMediaHacks on January 20, 2009 at 4:23 PM

Well, at least most of us aren’t saying the Obama daughters were fathered by Rev. Wright.

ddrintn on January 20, 2009 at 5:31 PM

It’s not that it was bad; Obama did a good job in delivering it, and it has some commendable passages about America and its people. It’s just rather pedestrian. Commentators are already noting that practically any president or presidential candidate could credibly have delivered this speech, from Nixon to Carter to Reagan to Clinton to McCain. It’s a generic speech, lacking in specific vision from Obama.

Appropriate though for a guy who really, when we come down to it, only wants to play at being president.

ddrintn on January 20, 2009 at 5:33 PM

It’s amazing. All around us are the fruits of running the government by the shorterm thinking of the business cycle. Obama tells us to “put away childish things” and to be willing to make great sacrifices and everyone here grabs their pacifiers and commences to having a major toddler-esque temper tantrum. As Obama said its clearly not a question of big governemtn vs. small government. Even under Reagan the size of the Federal government in 1988 was bigger than it was in 1981. It is the nature of things. Conservatives need to stop pretending like “small government” is possible and its never been what any of your elected officials have ever done. Rather they merely ensured that the government would serve therich. Its time for the government to serve the longterm economic health of the U.S. not the short gain interest of corporations.

DeathToMediaHacks on January 20, 2009 at 5:42 PM

The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works… Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end.

Yeah, wait until he tries to cut something. That’s when he’ll run into a big, honking wall of pork. Deficit spending, here we come!

Kafir on January 20, 2009 at 5:43 PM

It’s amazing. All around us are the fruits of running the government by the shorterm thinking of the business cycle. Obama tells us to “put away childish things” and to be willing to make great sacrifices and everyone here grabs their pacifiers and commences to having a major toddler-esque temper tantrum. As Obama said its clearly not a question of big governemtn vs. small government. Even under Reagan the size of the Federal government in 1988 was bigger than it was in 1981. It is the nature of things. Conservatives need to stop pretending like “small government” is possible and its never been what any of your elected officials have ever done. Rather they merely ensured that the government would serve therich. Its time for the government to serve the longterm economic health of the U.S. not the short gain interest of corporations.
DeathToMediaHacks on January 20, 2009 at 5:42 PM

Your post is worth repeating so I copied it above. It is amazing as you say. When one sees the truth it’s as plain as the nose on ones face. It is a subtle change but a necessary one.

kanda on January 20, 2009 at 5:46 PM

…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.

There are still conservatives out there who absolutely believe our government is too big. There may not be many in Congress but, we live!

That “stale political argument” is not going away just because so many elected Republicans chose to violate conservative principles.

Rae on January 20, 2009 at 5:48 PM

Its time for the government to serve the longterm economic health of the U.S. not the short gain interest of corporations.

DeathToMediaHacks on January 20, 2009 at 5:42 PM

How do you have a healthy national economy without healthy corporations? What are you using to divide “short gain interest” of corporations from long-term benefit?

ddrintn on January 20, 2009 at 6:06 PM

ddrintn on January 20, 2009 at 6:06 PM

Here’s a question for you. Why is 4% growth an unsuccesful year? It wasn’t that way when a single income was enough to feed a family of four? Our corporate culture went from being about healthy sustainable growth the minute wall street investors decided to demand unsustainable profits as the baseline for investing. 8% a year, every year, it’s just ridiculous. Firing people who made 5% profit. Tanking the stock prices of corporations who made 6%. Ridiculous. And what has the result been. A relentless effort to prop up profits lead to Enron. A relentless effort to make money quit on the housing market led to the housing bubble and internet bubble and the thankfully brief oil bubble. It’s all abotu what your definition of healthy is. Healthy does not equal gluttinous.

DeathToMediaHacks on January 20, 2009 at 6:19 PM

Kanda, how do you know he loves the marines? Because he returned as salute as he is supposed to do? How do you know that they will love him in return?

Since they are Marines, they, and the rest of the military, will show him respect as the CINC, but that does not equate love or even like. That is professionalism.

BTW, based upon some of your posts today, I wonder if we have an Obama voter in our midst.

The Opinionator on January 20, 2009 at 6:26 PM

Kanda,

As I said, I do want Obama’s agenda to fail. If that means he is seen as a failure, so be it. I do not want to see him reelected. The country does not necessarily fail or suffer if he does. In fact, if he and everyone stayed the heck out of the way, the economy will fully recover over the next couple of years.

The Opinionator on January 20, 2009 at 6:29 PM

Of course, that may have been by design. Obama said he wanted to take the divisions out of politics, and one way to do that is to offer speeches with no points for later debate.

Yeah, and then he slams Bush on Katrina on his web site on day of launch. Mmmmm, I can smell the unity!

Seixon on January 20, 2009 at 6:42 PM

Obama tells us to “put away childish things” and to be willing to make great sacrifices and everyone here grabs their pacifiers and commences to having a major toddler-esque temper tantrum.

Thank you for the quotation of scripture, brother MediaHack…and now brother ‘benny shakar’ will lead us in a hymn of great joy and praise and rejoicing…’Obama, we are not worthy of thine light!’

AUINSC on January 20, 2009 at 7:15 PM

Kanda, how do you know he loves the marines? Because he returned as salute as he is supposed to do? How do you know that they will love him in return?

Since they are Marines, they, and the rest of the military, will show him respect as the CINC, but that does not equate love or even like. That is professionalism.

BTW, based upon some of your posts today, I wonder if we have an Obama voter in our midst.

The Opinionator on January 20, 2009 at 6:26 PM

Maybe you can see the video of him and the commandant. That can’t be faked. It is more than respect. They like each other. That is clear. See how he smiles at those Marines when he salutes.

Would it make a difference if I voted for Obama? Well of course I did not vote for him. I do respect him however. He seems genuine in trying to bridge the gap between the parties. I think we will find him on the side of the republicans in congress more than most imagine possible. The left is getting worried about him now. That is apparent as Pelosi and Reid try to mark their territory. If Im right he will cross that line and they will tow the mark for him.
We shall see. My feeling is a president is not a democrat or a republican but a representative of the people. Sure they belong to a political party but in office they govern all of us not just some of us. It’s unique in politics. Elected by all the people in all states and territories. No other politician can claim that though some like Biden rode his coattails.

Like it or not he is our President. You can hope for the worst but it’ll only make you feel miserable if he succeeds. If he doesn’t succeed you can feel good in that you gave him a fair chance and he blew it. It’s all in the attitude. Thats the real choice.

kanda on January 20, 2009 at 7:47 PM

It’s just rather pedestrian.

Trouble is, Obama probably thinks he said profound things.

rgeaste on January 20, 2009 at 7:53 PM

As I listened to the speech, I was struck by its ignorance and lack of depth. I thought a well read high school senior could have penned the text. Either THE ONE was talking down to his supporters on a level they might understand that THEY have been the problem, or he just doesn’t have anything more than Axelrod’s generalities. Then, Andrea Mitchell voiced that any president could have given that speech, if they could have written it. And I thought most would have been embarrassed by triviality Obama voiced.
So to get its flavor out of my head, I read a great inauguration speech, Ronaldo Maximus’ first. Obama’s compared to Reagan’s, is so insignificant I cannot find words to describe the difference. So I won’t.

gonnjos on January 20, 2009 at 8:47 PM

Here’s a question for you.

DeathToMediaHacks on January 20, 2009 at 6:19 PM

Here’s one for you. What makes you think that Pelosi, Reid, Frank, Dodd and Obama know more about running businesses than the management who are actually running businesses?

ddrintn on January 20, 2009 at 8:56 PM

Trite, jejune, predictably shallow. Barren of substance, it’s a veneer much like the man himself. A hollow shell that will soon crumble and be forgotten, like the victory performance of last year’s American Idol winner.

mr.blacksheep on January 20, 2009 at 8:57 PM

what a load of non-speak. lacking in any substance whatsoever.

anna on January 20, 2009 at 9:37 PM

It’s all abotu what your definition of healthy is. Healthy does not equal gluttinous.

DeathToMediaHacks on January 20, 2009 at 6:19 PM

Another thing is, I hear a lot about “corporate greed”. How is corporate greed worse than government greed? We hear about Enron, but not Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. You won’t find any greedier organism on the face of the planet than the government in the US at all levels.

ddrintn on January 20, 2009 at 9:39 PM

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.

Eh?
This from the guy that just rode these things into office, and is promising to promote them above all else.

Count to 10 on January 21, 2009 at 10:26 AM

Never mind. I don’t have the time to spend listing all of the ways this speech is full of crap. There might have been one or two redeeming lines in it, but its hard to work out when they are just garnish on corrupt, socialist propaganda.

Count to 10 on January 21, 2009 at 10:33 AM

So to get its flavor out of my head, I read a great inauguration speech, Ronaldo Maximus’ first. Obama’s compared to Reagan’s, is so insignificant I cannot find words to describe the difference. So I won’t.

gonnjos on January 20, 2009 at 8:47 PM

Good news: you don’t have to.

“From time to time, we have been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people. But if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else?”

Quick show of hands — is there anyone in the world who can’t tell from these two sentences exactly what this man stood for?

“It is my intention to curb the size and influence of the Federal establishment and to demand recognition of the distinction between the powers granted to the Federal Government and those reserved to the States or to the people. All of us need to be reminded that the Federal Government did not create the States; the States created the Federal Government.”

Who could possibly be confused as to EXACTLY what direction this man intended to take this nation?

“It is no coincidence that our present troubles parallel and are proportionate to the intervention and intrusion in our lives that result from unnecessary and excessive growth of government.”

Any question in anyone’s mind precisely where the problem lies?

Of course I’m not going to try and pull any meaningful quotations from Barack Obama’s rambling diatribe. I can’t. No one else ever has been able to either. Not one quote; not now, not ever.

Besides, Reagan’s speech says it all. He didn’t need throngs of media sycophants spewing endlessly about how God-damned ARTICULATE whatever the Hell he said must have been. On the contrary; nearly all of them did their level best to shout down and drown out everything he tried to say.

But they failed – utterly. That’s because Ronald Reagan’s words had a power all their own. They resonated. He didn’t need a media cheerleading squad complete with megaphones to get his message across. The words he spoke did all of that. Not because of the media, but despite it.

logis on January 21, 2009 at 6:10 PM

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