I don’t envy Obama or his speech writers. Expectations for his inaugural address are high. As many as two million people are expected to show up. People all across the country – and around the world – will be watching on TV, video casts, and the like.
And everyone is expecting a remarkable speech. I wish him luck. He’s got a daunting task before him — both in speaking and in serving as president.
I have no idea what he will say, but here are some of the issues or themes that he might touch on.
One of the main tasks for any leader while speaking – and certainly for a president during his inaugural address – is to establish the identity of the audience. I expect Obama to have a lot to say about what it means to be Americans: what binds us together (our values, ideals, history), makes us special, and equips us for the task at hand. Look for him to speak about what unites us.
The state of the economy alone is enough to rattle people’s confidence. To say nothing about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, terrorism, international hotspots (the Middle East, India and Pakistan, Iran, North Korea), global warming, etc. People are worried, and Obama can’t ignore what’s on everyone’s mind. The question is, how will he realistically acknowledge the challenges we face without making them seem overwhelming or insurmountable?
Leaders have a vision of the future that gives people hope, direction, and a sense of purpose. Obama may not use the word vision. He may speak of his dream, alluding to Martin Luther King’s famous speech, but it amounts to much the same thing. He will, of course, name it as America’s dream or vision, not as his alone.
Throughout his campaign Obama spoke of change and appealed to people’s desire for a change not just in Washington, but throughout the country. He will, undoubtedly, speak about change. But he has to do so without condemning the past or vilifying the previous administration. One way he can do that is to use the word new. A new mission. A new outlook. A new civic involvement. Or he could use the word renewed. A renewed dedication to the rule of law. A renewed commitment to international cooperation.
Call to action
Watch how Obama ends his speech. I suspect that he’ll close with a call to action. On election night, he concluded by asking, “…if our children should live to see the next century…what change will they see? What progress will we have made? This is our chance to answer that call.” I think he’s got to do better than that in this speech. He has to issue a challenge and ask us to rise to the occasion.
What do you think he will address?