A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors


President Obama's Inaugural Speech - Open Thread

In many ways, Barack Obama's second inaugural speech was utterly characteristic: he began with the Declaration of Independence, which conservatives have worked mightily over the past four years to put to the service of their own ideology and agenda...and then used it as the keystone on which to construct the argument for his own, far more progressive, vision and agenda.Consider this an open thread for discussing the speech, or anything else related to today's inaugural ceremonies.

About the Author

Luke Hill is a writer and community organizer in Boston. He blogs at dotCommonweal and MassCommons. 



Commenting Guidelines

  • All

During this parade when the Pres and Michelle get out of the car my anxiety is as high as any SS agent walking in protection. Get back in the car please..

Amen, Ed. Particularly with the dislike of this man among so many people is so very palpable. And wayyyyyyyyyy too many of them own and carry guns.

I noticed the several times that Obama mentioned God. It is about the same number of times that Reagan did in his second inaugural address (Obama, 6; Reagan, 7 although the context of one of his references to God (God bless you and welcome back.) was to acknowledge the presence of Senator John Stennis, who had been absent from the Senate due to a cancer operation, which required the amputation of his leg. In contrast Bush mentions 3 times in his second inaugural address.I note the times that Obama mentions God and what I think are the unique contexts of his reference:while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth. (Reminded me of Kennedys Inauguration Address let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God's work must truly be our own.)We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else, because she is an American, she is free, and she is equal, not just in the eyes of God but also in our own.That is how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure our forests and waterways, our croplands and snowcapped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. (Good Catholic teaching on our responsibility to the earth.)My fellow Americans, the oath I have sworn before you today, like the one recited by others who serve in this Capitol, was an oath to God and country, not party or faction.Thank you, God Bless you, and may He forever bless these United States of America.

A political note: Joe Biden literally ran at times in the parade. I daresay Hillary couldn't do that. Where was she today? If she wasn't there at all that could cost her come primary time -- health issue.

Not a big deal, but I wish the clerics would pray more succinctly. Even the Grace Before Lunch was too long.The Fox News website has the text of Rev. Dr. Luis Leon's benediction at this URL

I rate it better than Kennedy's because it had more width and breadth. " And we must be a source of hope to the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the victims of prejudice - not out of mere charity, but because peace in our time requires the constant advance of those principles that our common creed describes: tolerance and opportunity; human dignity and justice. "This is what Christians are supposed to do when they enter politics. The president promised to focus attention on the widening gap between rich and the rest. The estate tax was originally devised to avoid a perpetuation of privilege. "Following an election dominated by a clash of economic philosophies, Mr. Obama used his second Inaugural Address to renew his demands for a new national focus on the widening gulf between rich and poor. He called it our generations task to make the values of life and liberty real for every American." Better than the words from many pulpits.Also the first time the word "gay" was mentioned in an Inaugural address. Great speech. He noted that the president cannot do it all. A nice call to advocate the care of the downtrodden. One hopes it is Goodbye to Dick Cheney and Milt Romney.

And if you want a smashing rendition of the National Anthem, check out Beyonce.

Last time Obama was inaugurated, everybody who had class at that time chivvied the students to the nearest TVs, and there was lots of cheering and eye-wiping. This time, everybody pretty much carried on and waited to catch the highlights on TV. Hillary was there with Bill. She looked good. But most of these people have an army to make sure they do. Image is everything now that we have Web sites that can show you the same event from many camera angles. Joe Biden loves people. Mark Shields said he would have hugged all 800,000 people on the Mall if he could. What was Scalia wearing on his head?And why was the Hawaii band playing the Welsh anthem, "Men of Harlech"? Great job, but interesting choice!

I thought the non- prayer of Evers-Williams was an embarrassment at best. The "prayer" is at first clearly offered to "America" only to turn in the most vague way to the "Almighty" about 2 minutes in. After that, it's any one's guess as to whom she's addressing, until we come to the ridiculous ending, "In Jesus name and in the name of all who are holy and right, we pray." Is this the best we can come up with once every four years? Oy.Here's hoping these things are left in the hands of professionals in the future.

"And we must be a source of hope to the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the victims of prejudice not out of mere charity, but because peace in our time requires the constant advance of those principles that our common creed describes: tolerance and opportunity; human dignity and justice. " Don't think I've ever heard the phrase "mere charity." Ever the pragmatist.

Sounds like he is using mere like "just" or "only." Or 'not merely charity."

I found it a very theological address, extending the biblical idea of human dignity and value to the economic sphere and to gays and lesbians. As well as the Niebuhrian nod to our imperfect natures:

We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate, Obama said toward the end of his address.We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect. We must act, knowing that todays victories will be only partial, and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years and 40 years and 400 years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall.

All in all, very good stuff, well-delivered. In many respects he is everything conservatives used to be.

So, more importantly, do we think he's going to actually implement this progressive agenda? Or are the next four years going to be pretty much the same as the first four?

I agree with Richard. The "prayer" of Evers-Williams was odd to say the least. But unfortunately the President can be a bit tone deaf on religion.

from today's "Washington Post:"[W]e reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future. The implication was that entitlement reform essential to Americas fiscal health means abandoning the older generation. In fact, the country can safeguard its most vulnerable elderly while investing in children but not without restructuring Medicare and Social Security. Mr. Obama recommitted himself, as he has uncounted times, to making hard choices to reduce the deficit. But he again offered no clue as to what those might entail.If that absence suggested a bit of wishful thinking, another sentence suggested a barrelful: A decade of war is now ending, Mr. Obama pronounced. That would come as news to the Afghan soldiers still dying at Taliban hands; to the families of more than 60,000 people killed in Syria in the past two years; to French soldiers who have taken on, in Mali, al-Qaeda affiliates who are as much enemies of the United States as of France; to the families of American hostages just slain in a terrorist attack in Algeria. Americas adversaries are not in retreat; they will be watching Mr. Obama in his second term to see if the same can be said of the United States.

I am unsure what to make of the juxtaposition between the President's damn-the-rich populist politics which seemingly were so effective in securing his re-election, and the breathless media commentary on the First Lady's hair, her dress, et al.

"So, more importantly, do we think hes going to actually implement this progressive agenda? Or are the next four years going to be pretty much the same as the first four?"The distractions of Afghanistan, Iraq, and, perhaps to some extent, the economy, will be off the table. I think it will be a mistake if Obama makes gun control a big issue. Everyone seems to support a universal screening mechanism. Let it go at that. There aren't enough studies that indicate that anything else is going to be a help much less a panacea, and it's a divisive issue.The GOP will continue to wrap itself in the flag of debt reduction, which is largely code for getting rid of social programs. I agree the debt is out of hand, but incremental spending reductions from the military strike me as the best course. For all his progressive talk, Obama is a pragmatist--he made that clear in his comment about not fighting about ideology but in solving today's problems. Some of us are going to have to learn to settle for that. The days of the Great Society are over because we are not a nation of producers anymore; we're a nation of retailers. If there was any chance that Obama was really a progressive, he'd have had Arlo Guthrie singing "Solidarity Forever" up there instead of James Taylor whining out "America the Beautiful." Unbeautifully.

To: Anthony Andreass 7:17 am Re your comment: "the President can be a bit tone deaf on religion." - a bit tone deaf on religion? (See Bill Mazzella's comment yesterday at 7:34 p.m.)If your comment, written so early in the morning, was meant to be humorous, the humor was lost on me. Hope you ave a NICER day.

Thanks everyone, for the comments. Rather than overrun this thread, I put some thoughts about Myrlie Evers-Williams invocation on my own blog: different perspective than those expressed above.)

Thank yo, Luke Hill.. I will revisit her prayer on YouTube. I missed its significance.

Luke, I always think there's a little tinge of . . . ageism in expecting less from an old person than from a young person. And a tiny bit of . . . racism in expecting less from a dark-skinned person than from a light-skinned person. And maybe some . . . sexism in expecting less from a woman than from a man.Imho, the prayer by Myrlie Evers-Williams, in which she referred to the "golden dome," was terrible. De gustibus non est disputandum.(Hi, Helen: Thanks for the suggestions you made to me the other day. I won't be listening to the "poem" or reading it, but I'm glad you enjoyed it. De gustibus non est disputandum.)

@Gerelyn (1/24, 5:29 pm) Thanks for your comment. Just in case I failed to make myself clear, about the only expectation (or better, hope) I had for Ms. Evers-Williams' invocation was that she would bring to bear upon the occasion some measure of the great moral, religious and civic traditions out of which she emerged, and in which she has been such an important and (at times) literally pivotal leader for the entire nation. On balance, I thought she did that on Monday. Also on balance, I thought much of the commentary (not just here, elsewhere too) about her invocation and its delivery failed to give due weight to those elements of her prayer and her praying.

Add new comment

You may login with your assigned e-mail address.
The password field is case sensitive.

Or log in with...

Add new comment