A Speech For One Age

Barack Obama’s “first” inaugural address was no speech for the ages.Where was the precise distillation of some elegant truth (about the better angels of our nature or the only thing we have to fear)? Where was the stirring call to meet the great challenges of this moment in history?The call was there, of course. But it wasn’t particularly stirring. . . .

All the mundane policy references really belonged more in a state of the union speech. Worse, it sometimes sounded like a campaign speech about the “changes” that we need. As my sister said, “stop running for the office. You’re here already.” But I wonder if it isn’t ultimately a good thing that our new president sounded smart but ordinary and workhorse-like. In fact, the most “inspirational” point of the speech was not lyrical rhetoric à la “audacity of hope” but rather, “pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and get down to work.”

Befits the moment. No?

And thank you, thank you, THANK YOU, new guy, for promising “to be held to account and to do our business in the light of day.” This, more than any particular thing government does or does not do, preserves the integrity of popular sovereignty.

I didn’t even mind that he and the chief justice flubbed the oath. It’s in keeping with the dialed down pageantry of this inauguration day. I like this president, but I like seeing him demystified. I’ve been uneasy with the pedestal quality to the place many have bestowed on him, apparently forgetting the work he has cut out for him and the fact that he’s just a guy. A super smart guy, with great political instincts and, I believe, really good intentions. But just a guy, after all.

And by the way, if you still have any doubts about how hard this is going to be, remember that the market fell by more than 300 points, an inauguration day record.

Still, he managed to move me with his homage to our “patchwork of heritage” and his articulation of “the price and promise of citizenship” and his promise to our enemies that “we will extend our hand if you will unclench your fist.” Best of all, he quoted Thomas Paine, my favorite Founding Father.

So, maybe he is striking the right balance (deliberately or inadvertently) between getting us charged up and keeping it real. And while it was no speech for the ages, perhaps it was one for this age.

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