COLUMNS

Obama speech does not disappoint

DeWayne Bartels

The afternoon of Inauguration Day, I got home in time to see the last half of an episode of “West Wing.” President Bartlett (Martin Sheen) was in the limo with President-elect Santos (Jimmy Smits) driving to the inauguration.

“How’s the speech?” Bartlett asked.

“It’s got a few good lines,” Santos said, “but no ‘Ask what you can do’ lines.”

Bartlett smiles, “Yeah, JFK really screwed us with that one.”

I had to smile as that was said.

That morning as I stood around a TV with co-workers listening to President Obama deliver his inaugural address, one of them spoke up at the end saying, “There was no ‘Ask what you can do for your country’ lines in that one.”

Maybe not, but it was a good address. It had moments that even this American — despite voting for the other party — could find pride in.

“Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often, the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because we, the people, have remained faithful to the ideals of our forebears, and true to our founding documents,” he said.

Speaking of war and the economic mess , he said, “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. 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. On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.”

He said, “In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted — for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.”

Obama reminded us that Americans have thought and acted big, and that now is no time to abandon that.

“Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions — who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.”

And, finally this quote: “Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends — hard work and honesty, 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 ... 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.”

But, not everyone felt hope. Following Obama’s inaugural address, investors sent the Dow Jones industrial average down about 4 percent and the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index down 5.2 percent.

That brings to mind another famous inaugural quote that's apropos. Franklin Delano Roosevelt uttered it in 1933. He said, “Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”