Obama’s second inaugural address was a deeply moving and patriotic speech.
It was one of the most effective usages of the founding documents’ principles as a supporting narrative — drawing us from the past to the present to the future. It combined two of Obama’s greatest strengths: his reason (constitutional analysis, desire to teach) with his poetic skills as a writer and a leader.
He touched on some of the practical challenges facing America. And in addressing these, he reaffirmed the approach he outlined during the election.
But the speech itself was about a different kind of affirmation. It echoed sentiments and subjects that have been a motif of his presidency, indeed his career. Obama defined what may be called an American faith.
In referring to the Declaration of Independence’s guiding principle, he said, “For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they have never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by his people here on Earth.”
Each balanced phrase and each oscillation between where we have been and where we must go elaborated this theme: The American faith is the faith in America. “We are true to our creed,” he said, when even a little girl born in 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.”
I will long ponder this, that “preserving our planet, commanded to our care by God … will lend meaning to the creed our fathers.”
This may not be remembered as the most stirring or oratorical inaugural speech. But it was a president sharing with the nation his values most personal and vision most spiritual.