Washington Words to inspire, words to comfort, words for the history books.
When President-elect Barack Obama delivers his inauguration address Tuesday, the nation and the world will be listening intently for all kinds of words from the man known for his soaring oratory. Three Associated Press writers offer their take on what Obama should and shouldn’t say in his speech.
Restore the national sense of mission — and chart a course toward it
America has always excelled at reaching for the stars. Trouble is, today ours is a nation in the throes of self-doubt. In his inaugural address, a national tradition of refreshing renewal, Barack Obama would do well to confront that head-on — and to reframe the American mission in the process.
This means eloquence, at which he excels, but also specifics, at which he sometimes doesn’t. It means appealing to the enduring American sense of self that says we can roll up our sleeves and get the job done. It means conveying big dreams in the context of granular reality — no small feat, and one that eludes many orators. And it means a delicate balance of emphasizing unity while summoning the nation’s diverse populations to action and service.
Throughout his campaign, Obama loved to say that America under the current administration had suffered mission creep. But you cannot lead by only pointing out flaws; you must also fill the vacuum with something better. What do we stand for? How do we defend it? How do we promote it? And how do we bring angry people together without ignoring the differences that make this nation exciting?
An inaugural address in that vein would demonstrate that all of Obama’s grand talk of change is about to be backed up by action.
—By Ted Anthony, AP National Writer
Just the facts, sir
Enough with the inspiration already. Now it’s time to get down to work.
For two years, ever since he announced he would seek the presidency, Obama has been inspiring people, young and old, rich and poor, black and white and every color in between. He soared rhetorically at the Democratic National Convention in Denver while accepting the nomination and again at Chicago’s Grant Park after he won the election.
On Inauguration Day, the problems facing Obama will be as clear and cold as the January morning: a faltering economy, two wars, crumbling institutions, damaged reputation.
Inspiration would be wonderful. A nod to the fact that the U.S. has overcome a seemingly insurmountable racial barrier would be great. But a recap of what exactly Obama intends to do to pull the country out of the ditch — perhaps painfully so — should be front and center.
Most important, Obama needs to tell his fellow Americans what they need to do to help. His candidacy has been predicated on the idea of people pitching in, not just turning over the controls of the government to him.
He’s got the job. Americans everywhere are ready to go where he leads. Just about everybody is listening. Now he needs to show us the way.
—By Douglass K. Daniel
Go for the sweep and keep it short
You’ll hear that this is the most important speech of your life. Don’t believe it. Sorry, but most inaugural addresses are forgettable or the media doesn’t get the message intended by the new president. In the midst of war and recession, this is the broad brush opening for your presidency, an address that should be inspirational and sobering, comforting and frank. You will give hundreds of speeches later, and they will have to come to grips with the harsh realities you inherit as America’s 44th president. Make your inaugural address bold and sweeping and save the details for later.
It will be hard to beat Franklin D. Roosevelt’s speech when he became president in 1933 in the midst of the Great Depression, summing up in one paragraph the tremendous challenges facing the nation and setting an optimistic path for the future:
“This is pre-eminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So first of all let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified fear which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
—By Terence Hunt