Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address

Monday, January 19, 2009

Barack Obama’s inaugural address tomorrow is arguably the most anticipated inaugural address to date.

More than 2 million people are expected to brave the near-freezing DC weather to hear Obama address the nation in front of the U.S. Capitol as the 44th president.

It’s hard to imagine a more anticipated inaugural speech for several reasons. Not only will it be by the first African-American president, but also Obama rose to prominence as a prolific speechmaker. His 2004 Democratic National Convention speech catapulted him into the national political spotlight. And hardly anybody can argue that the current economic crisis builds more anticipation for Obama‘s first speech after taking the oath of office.

Obama’s 10-year-old daughter, Malia, is also adding additional pressure, according to a CNN article. After a family visit to the Lincoln Memorial, which has Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address inscribed on its walls, Malia turned to her father and said, “First African-American president — better be good.”

In a John F. Kennedy-like move, Obama, in tomorrow’s address, will ask Americans to restore a national value system that honors responsibility and accountability, according to Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s chief of staff, in a Sunday interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

JFK’s speechwriter and advisor Ted Sorensen told the New York Times, Obama should keep his focus on the country’s international standing.

“That Inaugural Address is going to define his presidency in the eyes of the rest of the world,” Sorensen said. “It should be “bipartisan in tone and global in reach.”

Speechwriting Style

In his critique of Obama’s speech style, Sorensen told the Times, “I would say that occasionally his sentences and words are not always short.”

That was a key element of Kennedy speeches written by Sorensen. In fact, a recent New Yorker article references Sorensen’s comment about Lincoln’s inaugural addresses: “Lincoln never used a two- or three- syllable word where a one-syllable word would do.”

While it’s common today for presidents to have their speeches crafted predominantly by others, Obama’s press secretary Robert Gibbs insisted in a Sunday TV interview that the president-elect had written the bulk of his inaugural address.

The Jan. 12th New Yorker article, written by Harvard history professor Jill Lepore, has a rather amusing title: “The Speech: Have Inaugural Addresses Been Getting Worse?

Throughout the campaign, Obama’s speeches have focused on hope and unity, such as the opening line of his Presidental-Elect acceptance speech last November in Chicago:

If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.

I haven’t heard anyone say they anticipate Obama to give a bad speech, but Lepore noted that most inaugural speeches are not memorable, aside from a few snippets (or soundbites).

Quite comically, she also noted: “A bad inaugural address doesn’t always augur a bad Presidency. It sinks your spirit though.”

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Inaugural Address Trivia

(courtesy of Lepore’s article)

First inaugural address broadcast on the radio: Calvin Coolidge, 1925 (prior to that, inaugural addresses were only read by the general public in the newspaper)

First televised inaugural address: Harry S. Truman, 1949

First inaugural streamed online: Bill Clinton’s second term address, 1997

First expected to be Youtubed: Take a guess

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