Barack Obama gave a "purpose-driven" speech at his inaugural today, one aimed at rallying Americans to set aside self-interest in favor of the common good. There was some fine oratory and it hit the right note. But to me, the most inspiring passage of the ceremony belonged to poet Elizabeth Alexander:
What if the mightiest word is love, love beyond marital, filial, national. Love that casts a widening pool of light. Love with no need to preempt grievance.In today's sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun.
Alexander's poem "Praise Song for the Day" moved somewhat fitfully to that point, but then it lifted off at the end. The "mightiest word" is not often uttered in political discourse, even by religious leaders given the stage.

Paul Moses is the author, most recently, of The Italian Squad: The True Story of the Immigrant Cops Who Fought the Rise of the Mafia (NYU Press, 2023). He is a contributing writer. Twitter: @PaulBMoses.

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