“I stand here today humbled by the task before us.”

     Last year I took an English class called Public Relations. In it, we were taught several aspects of PR, but the section that I played particular attention to was speech writing. When Professor Pettice asked us to find and analyze a speech, my mind began racing… but alas, I was stuck on which speech to choose! There’s countless examples of beautifully written rhetoric and perfectly delivered speeches over time. Perhaps the one that touched me most was President Barack Obama’s Inaugural Speech in January 2009. Those moments will stay with me forever, because of the beautiful elegance of his speech, witnessing the first African American to be inaugurated as President, and because I myself stood listening among the 1.8 million people in the National Mall.  

     There are several parts of Obama’s Address that demonstrate effective kairos. After winning the election, the President is expected to praise those who supported him and brought him to the White House, but also address the concerns/worries the other party still has. It is a time to unit the American public after a brutal polarizing process with a positive assurance and a strong attitude towards facing the nation’s challenges.

     This is exactly what Obama does, and only moments into his speech. “That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood.” By then going on to provide several examples of how we are in a crisis, Obama demonstrates his recognition of the problem. He then states, “Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many.” One might wonder why Obama criticizes the current state so harshly, but this is very strategic. Throughout the campaign the Democrats were attacked by conservatives for nominating such a “new” politician, stating that his inexperience might prevent Obama from fully understanding the task of the job. Well, right off the bat Obama wants the nation to know that he grasps the severity of the American situation.

     Then, in a general way he exclaims, “Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America. ” Not only does he understand the problems, but makes it a point to underscore that now is the time to fix it and “remake” America, no small task. After providing non-partisan and broad examples of how to reshape America, he acknowledges those who remain concerned that too many big changes will harm progress. The people who think this, of course, are those in the Right, who warned that electing a liberal President would bring sweeping change to a Nation already so vulnerable. “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.” He elegantly combats that thinking by saying it’s not a matter of too much change or too liberal a change, what it is a matter of is effective change. We can no longer be concerned about the adjectives describing necessary programs (liberal, progressive, “big government”), what we must be concerned about is the effect these programs will have on the betterment of America.

     In another very effective part of his Address, Obama starts several sections with “To the..,” filling in “Muslim world,” “leaders around the globe,” “people of poor nations,” etc. The repetition starting each of these paragraphs is significantly effective in adding weight and meaning to the words that follow. Obama takes the proper moment to identify that the American crisis does not just affect us at home, but touches so many more parts of the world. Our war and military situation, our economic foothold in an economically tied world, our place as watchkeeper and protector of the weak, etc. His speech makes it clear that while we must think about ourselves, we cannot only think about ourselves.

     There is no better time for a president to humbly acknowledge and accept the tasks before him, recite a broad plan of action, and speak assurances to both sides of the aisle than during an inaugural address. Obama’s demeanor was gracious yet serious, thankful but stern. He included religious verse and addressed Republican concerns, underscoring the need to unite as a nation despite partisan differences. The ending of his speech left all those watching feeling inspired and ready to follow our new leader into making a better future for ourselves and future generations:

     “…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…”


One response to this post.

  1. Thanks for this reminder of the speech and the excitement and hope he generated that day.


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