The Inauguration of Barack Obama

The Inauguration of Barack Obama

Today, January 20th 2009, Barack Obama took the oath of the President of the United States of America. To a crowd of people so large that no ground could be seen from the sky for miles, he gave a stirring speech. In this speech, Obama addressed the people of this country, excluding no one. Having listened to this man speak for two years now, the people of America have come expect no less from him. Parsing the intent of presidential speeches is an act of almost poetic explication. Beneath the broad terms, the sweeping imagery and the delicate selection of words, there are portents of future actions. Strange as it may sound, when listening to Obama's first official address as President, I couldn't help but think of George W. Bush's first state of the union address after the September 11th attacks. I believe that particular speech will go down in history as Bush's best and most meaningful address. Looking at its text today, the direction of its words seems obvious. He used words like "enemy" and "grave". He addressed the world outside of America with recklessness and contempt. And as for how that speech met with the people of America, it practically drafted them instead of imploring them to service. So, under all the strong language, what did Barack Obama actually say this afternoon? Obama's words were careful, mostly open-ended but occasionally precise. A lot of it was familiar, both in the sense of his own past speeches as well as the typical language of political leaders. There was the usual rally to bootstrap, evoke the hard work of our ancestors and recognize the strength and prosperity of the American spirit. But alongside the familiarity, Obama brought some incisive comments. When he spoke of the religious faiths present in America, he also included atheists, or in his words, "non-believers". I, personally, can't recall a time when an American President included the secular community when recognizing the moral core of the country. When Obama began talking about the hard work of generations past, he took the opportunity to refer to slaves in the same breath as immigrants. Of course, he's the first President who can genuinely evoke the heritage of slaves, but that doesn't make it any less unsettling that our past executives haven't really included them when discussing how our nation was built. Among all his trademark language of hope and virtue, Mr. Obama did address some specific issues and outline part of his plan to fix the resulting problems. He made unmistakable references to an overhaul of the nation's infrastructure, including the installation of ubiquitous high-speed Internet access lines. Both in his language addressing Middle East relations and domestic energy policy, he clearly alluded to an alternative energy future for America to tune of solar and wind power. As for foreign policy in general, Obama's speech stuck with general language; Pursue peace in Afghanistan, whatever that means, aid poor nations, persevere through terrorism. His address to foreign leaders was a nice change of pace, though. However soft and eloquent, Obama's words seemed to say, "There's a new administration in America. You won't have to deal with the old garbage anymore. Let's start over." But if one message pervaded throughout the speech, it would be the call to action for every American. Obama referred to himself very little. Instead, he spoke in the language of a collective. "We", "Us", "Together", "Unity". He placed the responsibility of the country's problems, as well as the means to their solutions, on the American people. If the sentiment behind this is true, then Barack Obama stood before us today and told us that we walk into the White House with him, acquiring all of the privilege and all of the work that comes with doing so.