The Reviews Are In: Obama’s Inaugural Speech

  • submit to reddit

Second inauguration speeches seldom move the needle much. President Obama’s marks the seventeenth such speech in history and, as historian Douglass Brinkley explained to CBS News yesterday, with the “notable exception of Abraham Lincoln, who delivered his second inaugural speech as the Civil War waned and slavery neared an end, few [presidents] in U.S. history are remembered for this particular address.”

President Barack Obama gestures as he gives his inauguration address during a ceremonial swearing-in ceremony during the 57th Presidential Inauguration, Monday, Jan. 21, 2013 on the West Front of the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/Win McNamee, Pool)

President Barack Obama gestures as he gives his inauguration address during a ceremonial swearing-in ceremony during the 57th Presidential Inauguration, Monday, Jan. 21, 2013 on the West Front of the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/Win McNamee, Pool)

Whether or not Obama’s speech will be remembered remains to be seen, but here’s some analysis of what it might mean for the next four years. Please share your thoughts below.

The Two Most Powerful Allusions in Obama’s Speech Today: “I like the precise logical concision of contrasting “self-evident” with “self-executing” truths. But “blood drawn by the lash” is an impressive and confident touch. It was of course an allusion to a closing passage in what is generally considered history’s only great second inaugural address, Abraham Lincoln’s in 1865…” [James Fallows in The Atlantic]

For Obama, More Prose than Poetry in Second Inaugural: “[T]he speech overall was more prosaic than most inaugurals. It was somewhat surprising, in this context, to hear a defense of entitlements, a disquisition on climate change, and calls for immigration reform and an end to voter suppression legislation. In all of this, Obama’s model may have been Franklin Roosevelt’s 1937 second inaugural—the first such address delivered in January—which was a clarion call for liberal politics and an attempt to cast it in the American mainstream. Sixteen days later FDR over-reached with his Court-packing plan, and his influence in domestic affairs began to ebb.” [Richard Tofel at ProPublica]

Obama Was Always a Liberal, But Now He’s Defending Liberalism: “There’s no question that Obama spent most of his 2,100 words today laying out what he cares about. But I don’t think that’s what makes it such a departure for him. Obama has laid out his worldview in a variety of settings, even in big thematic speeches like this one. It would be hard to read, say, his June 2008 victory speech without a sneaking suspicion the guy is a liberal. The key difference is that Obama actively defended his worldview this time, which is not something we’ve see him do on these stages.” [Noam Scheiber in The New Republic]

Twelve Ways Obama Smacked Down the Tea Party and the Right in Inauguration Speech: “With its elegant rendering of the liberal agenda before the eyes of the American people, President Barack Obama’s second inaugural address was music to the ears of many a progressive. But to the ears of Tea Partiers and the Republican right, this inauguration speech, as well as the ceremony that surrounded it, was war — not just a war of words, but a war of prayer, a war of poetry and even, perhaps, a war of song.” [Adele Stans at Alternet]

Speech Gives Climate Goals Center Stage: “President Obama made addressing climate change the most prominent policy vow of his second Inaugural Address, setting in motion what Democrats say will be a deliberately paced but aggressive campaign built around the use of his executive powers to sidestep Congressional opposition.” [Richard W. Stevenson and John M. Broder in The New York Times]

Obama the Centrist Comes Out as a Liberal: “Obama’s message was clear. If Washington, or Madison, or even Jefferson were alive today, they would be modernizing technocrats, just like him, rather than anti-government Tea Party supporters. It was a variant of an argument the President has made many times before, and to great effect, because it has the merit of being largely true. He is the reasonable one. It is the Republicans who are the extremists.” [John Cassidy in The New Yorker]

And don’t miss this great interactive from The Wall Street Journal that pits two presidents and their inaugural speeches head to head. Learn about the word choices presidents have made over the years. For instance, how many times do you think the founding fathers used the word “God” in their inaugural speeches? The answer might surprise you.

  • submit to reddit
  • R. W. Hardy

    Nothing that the President said will matter unless the American people demand that the government return to governing instead of making everything an ideological battle. We may not have time to wait for the next election… people need to speak up now.

  • Padre Verde

    We are faced with a Congress that cannot or will not act as directed by the US Constitution. They took an oath to “faithfully perform the duties of the office to which they were elected. When will they start?

  • Jack Wall

    The President has asked for his backing – we need to become vocal and insistent that it is time to change the direction of our government. Many things are already happening and I’m trying to post as many as possible on my Facebook page, “Politically, I’m Just Sayin’…” This piece from Moyers will be posted there as well. Thanks, Bill, for a thoughtful assessment of the great job Mr. Obama did. Now, let’s all get behind him and let the opposition know we’re there!!! Sign petitions! Write comments! Send emails to your Congressmen and Congresswomen!

  • Mary Miaoulis

    Obama and the Democrat Senate have not passed a budget in 4+ years. What are the Republicans doing that is not Constitutional? The same Constitution that Obama now says should be changed to fit his vision of a collectivism ?

  • Mary Miaoulis

    Collectivism = Socialism, AKA Communism Light. AND the TEA Part are extremist because they want to adhere to the Constitution. Really now?

  • Jon

    It is so frustrating to hear and read about a manufactured fiscal cliff and debit ceiling crisis when just months ago we were talking about how job growth would save the economy. The primary driver of deficits is a lack of growth. When unemployment drops the deficit as a % of GDP drops. Obama is doing us all a disservice by allowing the GOP and Tea Party politians to set the talking points. We are in a debate about increasing taxes, cutting spending, and austerity measures to increase the SS age limit when we should be talking about jobs. The deficit as a % of GDP has been falling every year since 2009 without austerity measures, spending cuts, or tax increases. Why? Because the economy has been able to add jobs and revenue growth year over year. Additional jobs in spite of the fact that the banks have stopped lending money, no new stimulus packages, and the GOP blocking all new legislation. Why do we care about a debt ceiling when money is so cheap and debt can be financed at rates so low it costs nothing. Push the debt down the road and create jobs to raise revenues that will drive the debt down. Argh! It is so maddening that we allow the media and Obama to continue this smoke screen discussion of “hard choices” and “painful measures” when the solution is jobs. Everyone loves jobs… not so painful is it.

  • MLK and FDR are needed NOW!

    I can’t believe that anyone believes Obama anymore. He is a cynical master of misusing liberal language to mask his reactionary, oppressive policies. Don’t be lulled and deceived by his lofty rhetoric and empty promises — instead, look hard and close at his very long list of terrifying actions and inactions.

  • reasonstobecyncical

    How many more times are we going to do this? We’ve known for quite some time that President Obama can give a great speech; and not only a great speech, but one that sounds distinctly “liberal.” We’ve also known for some time that his speeches rarely, if ever, translate into liberal or progressive policy. His speeches are just that: mere words. Yet, after every speech, the same people jump out of their seat cheering “I knew he was liberal! Things will be different now!” They cheer while this president overlooks war crimes, but vigorously prosecutes whistle-blowers of those war crimes. They cheer while this president prosecutes the war on drugs, but protects systemically dangerous institutions (TBTF banks) that launder money for drug cartels. They cheer while this president negotiates cuts to our social safety net, while bailing out and protecting the very institutions that wrecked the economy. As Larry Lessig depressingly pointed out, “we live in a world where the architects of the financial crisis regularly dine at the White House.” I would only add that, those same architects not only dine at the White House, but work in the administration currently occupying the White House. We’ve all heard the rhetoric–it’s time to stop worrying about the speeches and start worrying about what this administration is going to do to fill the ever-widening gap between its actions and that rhetoric.

  • MLK and FDR are needed NOW!

    Thank you, rtbc, for posting this comment. I’d like to add that when Obama SAYS one thing but DOES the opposite, his words can be fairly interpreted as Obama INTENTIONALLY MEANING TO DECEIVE the American people. I feel profoundly offended by Obama. I think Obama is “a wolf in sheep’s clothing”. Not only are his policies hurting the common people (through both actions and inactions), but his “charming” personality and “seductive earnestness” are deceiving and manipulating the common people into loving him for neglecting and abusing them! Despite Obama’s populist poses and liberal rhetoric, his actions prove him to be yet another “puppet” of the 1% ruling class and the military-spy, imperialistic empire — as are the majority of our corporate-selected, vetted, funded, and controlled “publicly elected” officials. And the extreme-right Republicans are even more guilty of class-war against the common people.

    People may want to consider Ralph Nader’s view of Obama’s inaugural “pretty words” at Common Dreams today — plus Glen Ford’s view at Black Agenda Report, and the ongoing list of Obama’s wrongful actions at St. Pete’s for Peace.

  • Anonymous


  • alamode

    Exactly where and how do ‘We – the People’ show up to make the change? (Feel free to answer that here – or anywhere. Time to crowd-source!) It this question that we must ask, determine and ACT UPON. Even if, as it looks, Obama is occasional pretty words and silence when it matters or doing the opposite (excusing himself for being there with the talk of ‘realm of the possible’ vs. REALLY understanding that he must organize The People to fight back) and even as he colludes with the powers that destroy this planet and don’t really care about the letter or Spirit of the Constitution – only profits and the ‘cool-aid’ of unbridled free markets = liberty, even if he is part of what will destroy this Republic – the inequality and plutocracy — it is WHAT WE THE PEOPLE DO that will rescue this near ‘dead on arrival Democracy’ (see vote on Senate filibuster). It is what WE THE PEOPLE do. Howard Zinn kept making that point, and I finally heard what he was saying – thanks to Bill Moyers and others!

    Sorry to say — if these times are a testament to how easy it is to ‘dupe’ most Americans – (people in general – including myself) to vote against their own interests AND THE REALITIES ON THE GROUND ….by appealing to basic human needs and planting fear-based, often unconscious scenarios in our minds, repeating big lies, sowing divisions and hatreds, and getting away with it because of general ignorance (of history and economics, not to mention ethics) and the lack of positive group dynamics experience in any context, using hope itself in a sneaky and even prosaic way, I don’t know if I am awake or dreaming. HOW CAN the facts be what they are and people not rising up — ‘in the name of a God who spoke of being his brother’s keeper’ or not. Because we’re busy — and just WANT to believe it will work out somehow. More short term thinking. Well, not is WE ARE ASLEEP at the switch.

    Maybe we need more examples of what works ‘collectively’, and less about ‘can we trust this leader or that. We the People. Yes — Nice rhetoric, Obama. Unless you are CAPABLY rallying us, you aren’t doing your job as leader, and I suspect who you are really working for – self-deluded or corrupt as you may be. Because we will make the change — or it will happen to us via the corrupting 1% or the organized multi-national corporate power. They already have bought our Constitution with ‘Citizens United.’

  • David W. Nerubucha

    No man who gives credit to God and recognizes His omnipotence in everything he does unless he has encountered His presence. It is a mark of good tidings to have a world leader such as Mr. Obama that he is accountable to his Creator in everything decision he will be faced with at the White House in his second term.

  • David W. Nerubucha

    No man gives credit to God and recognizes His omnipotence, in
    everything under the sun, unless he has not had a personal encounter with His presence.

    It is a mark
    of good tidings to have a world leader of Mr. Obama’s stature – liberal as he might be – but accountable to his Creator.

    The least the president can do is acknowledge God in all he is faced with, even as he continues to execute the authority of his office during the second term, at the White House.