We are becoming accustomed to the high rhetoric of this new president. Barack Obama’s “Yes, we can”-speech in New Hampshire and his speech on race in Pennsylvania have already been deemed classics. Add to them his speech in Berlin in the summer of 2007, his speech at the Democratic convention in Denver last August, and his victory speech on election night and it was easy to assume the bar would be impossibly high come inauguration day. But Obama has once again passed the test.
While this address was more sober in tone and delivery, it was a speech that will be remembered for its vision and its audacity. Obama expressed confidence in America’s promise, but he also called on his fellow citizens to become more engaged and responsible, and emphasized the need to restore America’s moral leadership in world. Obama chose to deliver a message that change is on the way—that it will be transformative and his presidency will be proactive. Clearly, this man has an eight-year agenda.
Pundits will analyze who inspired the words in this address: Was it Lincoln or Washington or Kennedy or even FDR? He was surely inspired by the history and words of his illustrious predecessors. However, we know Obama wrote his speech and I see in it the Obama we have come to know. This speech will stand the test of time should his presidency succeed. It will have set a standard, the Obama standard. It would be great if the words of future presidents were one day inspired by those of the 44th president.
The last few days have been euphoric, with celebrations and accolades coming from all parts of the world. And yet, a strong dose of realism is being felt. It will be needed to face the difficult and complex challenges ahead.
Many people have rightly emphasized the historic significance of the day. But having been the first African-American to reach the presidency will eventually become a statistic. What his administration will do as it faces the problems he has inherited will determine how historical this event really is. President Obama has shown skill, temperament and character in reaching his goal. He will have to do the same and more in the years ahead.
All we can say with certainty today is, ‘Good start, Barack!’