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Becoming president was the inspiration

(MinnPost asked several Minnesota leaders and public-policy experts to share their thoughts on Inauguration Day and the Barack Obama presidency. To read more of their responses, click here.)

Few presidential inaugural speeches rise to brilliance and are memorable. President Barack Obama’s speech had the potential to rise to the occasion of the words of Presidents Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Kennedy. In my lifetime I cannot remember a speech looked forward to with such anticipation as the one Tuesday.

I watched the inaugural events at the Hennepin County Library in Minneapolis along with a crowd of several hundred. I was asked to give a talk before the events to set the tone. I of course knew that I was barely a footnote to the real events.

As I reflect on Obama’s speech I am struck with but one observation. While his inauguration and speech were history, the contents of what he had to say were not. The symbolism of the first African-American, Gen Xer, post-racial, post-post Cold War, etc., president were significant. All this was clearly on the minds of the very diverse crowd I sat with. There was also relief and happiness in this crowd that the Bush era was over.

I was struck by how flat the first 2/3s or 3/4s was. It had little of the powerful rhetoric or inspiration that one had grown to expect from him. In some sense, I thought, I too was a victim of expectations. I had anticipated a better speech. Maybe the expectations were too high.

Yet a woman sitting next to me turned and asked me what I thought and before I spoke she said that the speech was disappointing until the end. No lines stood out, no phrases were worth remembering. It was just another inaugural speech that would be remembered more for who gave it than what was said.

What I really liked most was the Benediction. This is the speech that Obama should have given. Less emphasis on policy and specifics (Obama really gave more of a State of the Union talk) and more on inspiring. Others I talked to agreed.  Many thought he conceded too much to the conservatives, although reaching across the aisles is a trademark of Obama. Still others wanted to be inspired by his words. Some might have been. But with the crowd I was with, the words mattered little. It was Obama himself who was the star; simply becoming president was the inspiration and importance attached to this speech.

David Schultz, an expert on elections and politics, is a professor in the Hamline University School of Business, where he teaches public, nonprofit and business administration.

Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 01/21/2009 - 12:01 pm.

    Mr. Schultz,

    You liked the Benediction?

    Are you talking about Rev. Lowery’s prayer?

    If Rich Warren had prayed such a prayer, would you still have liked it?

  2. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 01/21/2009 - 12:15 pm.

    “But with the crowd I was with, the words mattered little. It was Obama himself who was the star; simply becoming president was the inspiration and importance attached to this speech.”

    IMO, it was also the inspiration and importance that got him elected in the first place….had to be since there have been precious few words of any import.

    It’s hard for a conservative, such as myself, to mount an effective argument against what I feel in my bones will be a disaster when so very little detail of from direction that disaster approaches.

    Forget the mummers parade of liberal fringe social policy, that’s a given.

    What concerns me is that no one seems to have noticed that our newly minted Democrat President and Congress has spent the past two months walking the path, hand in hand, with a man they have spent the past eight years assuring us is a utter moron.

    When George W. Bush said “Borrow and distribute”, they all said “more!”. And as I understand it, the first order of business is to reload that cash cannon for another rain of IOU confetti.

    I may be wrong, but I cannot, in my lifetime, remember a President that was elected on the basis of nothing more than the promise of a nebulous platitude of “change”.

    It’s going to be a very interesting four years, glad I have a front row seat for the show!

  3. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 01/21/2009 - 04:20 pm.

    Thomas, it was a lot more than some “nebulous platitude of ‘change'”. I’m not accusing you of not listening because I think you did, but clearly you didn’t get it. Maybe it’s one of those things that’s instinctive to one side, but really hard to explain tot he other. It’s more than I can stick in a comment, not when whole books have been written on it. The only way I can think of to put it briefly is to remind you of how conservatives reacted to Sarah Palin. Liberals still have trouble grasping what conservatives find appealing about her, but conservatives got her in an instant.

    On the subject of Obama’s speech, I was listening to the audio coming in to work this morning, and even though I heard it live yesterday, I found myself trying to slow my arrival at my desk in hopes no one would disturb me before the speech was finished. It wasn’t even a conscious decision at first. That’s how good it was.

  4. Submitted by Jon Larson on 01/22/2009 - 12:39 am.

    Goodness! What speech were you listening to?

    This was a speech that was nuanced and sophisticated on so many levels, it was literally breath-taking. Some examples, in no particular order.

    1) It recognized that the 1.3 BILLION Moslems on planet earth were a part of the human family.

    2) It called on this terminally infantilized nation to GROW UP! and quoted the Apostle Paul for good measure.

    3) It announced the end of free-market fundamentalism, which after 35 years of relentless economic destruction, was especially welcome.

    4) It pointed out that power without moral authority is meaningless.

    5) It didn’t flinch at describing the hole we have dug for ourselves.

    Yeah! It’s too bad such a speech was wasted on such a pig-ignorant audience. Thankfully, the rest of the world was listening in and THEY got it.

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