Obama’s inaugural speech to an audience of 20 lakh people live and watched in millions around the world had some elements of good speaking. We’ll try to take note of it.
A few Highlights:
# The Introduction was graceful, acknowledging the services of the outgoing President.
# Obama’s strength was plain speaking. He spoke to the common man and addressed his concerns.
“The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works – whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end.” “It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter’s courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent’s willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.”
# He showed himself to be a realist and an optimist.
“Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms.”Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America – they will be met.” “That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.”
# He tapped deeply into the plus points of American history and heritage.
[Speaking of “Earlier generations,” Obama said,] “Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint. We are the keepers of this legacy.”
# He used the image of a “journey” as an underlying theme throughout the speech.
“This is the journey we continue today.” “So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have travelled.” “Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted.”
# Though there was not much rhetoric the clear message that America will meet the crises at hand and win over it–both at the economic front at home and war with outside forces–was made clear in very decisive words.
“We will not apologise for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defence, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.” “And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and we are ready to lead once more.”
# There was motivation and use of rhetorical devices:
“Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.”
“For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and travelled across oceans in search of a new life. For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and ploughed the hard earth. For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.”
# Some images touch our heart because they are blood-stained and spoke of both present and past.
“As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us,just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages.” Another example, “In the year of America’s birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood.”
# Images of hope and reconciliation were also used:
With a note of hope for the future he told nations that they will be judged in this fashion: “know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.” At the same time a willingness to cooperate on this condition was extended too: “but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”
# His speech reflected values and ideals that the American founding fathers had stood for and it gave a rousing call to the people to return to it and embrace it.
“Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends – honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism – these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths.”
# He used emotions well, the high point of which was the line,
“This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed – why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.” He got a good round of applause because people understood that Capitol Hill (referred to as Magnificent Mall) was made by the sweat, toil and tears of dominantl black labour force.”
# Reading between the lines, the American president seems to know that the honeymoon is over. He is now at the helm of affairs trying to steady a ship that might sink like the Titanic did a century ago:
“Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land – a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.”
# The Conclusion was fitting. Images like “winter of hardship,” “icy currents” and “storms” realistically painted what America is in today. Obama continued the image of “journey” and the American people’s refusal to let it end when tested but carry it on with success and pass it on to the next generations.
“America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.”