Obama’s Inaugural Speech


On Tuesday, Barack Obama will take the oath in perhaps the most eagerly anticipated presidential inauguration in our history. He will have the attention of many millions around the world. What should he say?

"We have a place, all of us, in a long story - a story we continue, but whose end we will not see," President Obama might wish to begin. "It is the story of a new world that became a friend and liberator of the old, a story of a slave-holding society that became a servant of freedom, the story of a power that went into the world to protect but not possess, to defend but not to conquer."

Such phrasing will signal Mr. Obama's desire to build bridges, and acknowledge our mistakes as we grow as a nation. Then:

"While many of our citizens prosper, others doubt the promise, even the justice, of our own country. The ambitions of some Americans are limited by failing schools and hidden prejudice and the circumstances of their birth. And sometimes our differences run so deep, it seems we share a continent, but not a country.

"We do not accept this, and we will not allow it."

By bringing a hint of his own experiences into the speech, Mr. Obama will seek to assure black and white, rich and poor, Democrats and Republicans that he envisions a more just world for our children.

"Today, we affirm a new commitment to live out our nation's promise through civility, courage, compassion and character.

"America, at its best, matches a commitment to principle with a concern for civility. A civil society demands from each of us good will and respect, fair dealing and forgiveness."

This language, while not specific as to policy, will take President Obama to a discussion of the global community:

"America remains engaged in the world by history and by choice, shaping a balance of power that favors freedom. We will defend our allies and our interests. We will show purpose without arrogance. We will meet aggression and bad faith with resolve and strength. And to all nations, we will speak for the values that gave our nation birth.

"America, at its best, is compassionate."

As he nears his conclusion, Mr. Obama should hint at the "Dreams from My Father," that gave him this remarkable opportunity:

"Our national courage has been clear in times of depression and war, when defending common dangers defined our common good. Now we must choose if the example of our fathers and mothers will inspire us or condemn us. We must show courage in a time of blessing by confronting problems instead of passing them on to future generations."

"America, at its best, is a place where personal responsibility is valued and expected."

And, in the spirit of John Kennedy, a call for service:

"What you do is as important as anything government does. I ask you to seek a common good beyond your comfort; to defend needed reforms against easy attacks; to serve your nation, beginning with your neighbor. I ask you to be citizens: citizens, not spectators; citizens, not subjects; responsible citizens, building communities of service and a nation of character.

"Americans are generous and strong and decent, not because we believe in ourselves, but because we hold beliefs beyond ourselves. When this spirit of citizenship is missing, no government program can replace it. When this spirit is present, no wrong can stand against it."

If President Obama can deliver, with passion, a speech along these lines, he will take the first giant step for his new administration, while assuring those who voted for him - and those who did not - that they have reason to be hopeful in these troubled times.

He should also find a way to acknowledge that rhetoric alone won't do the trick, since every word here was spoken by George W. Bush in his inaugural address, Jan. 20, 2001.

© Peter Funt. This column first appeared in The Monterey Herald.

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