President Barack Obama’s Inaugural: a Few Not Overly Critical Thoughts

–Richard E. Vatz

It was, I believe, Sen. J. William Fulbright who said that a presidential honeymoon period — during which a newly elected president is given significant latitude before negative political judgment is made – should be about nine months. If that period of time is enough for a woman to deliver a baby, Sen. Fulbright reasoned, it should be sufficient time for a president to gain his footing.

The opinion here is that President Barack Obama will have at least two years of a honeymoon period, given the starry-eyed support he can depend on from the public, the media and his ruling Democrats.

That said, it pains me to say I was not unimpressed by his Inaugural.

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There were hints of Washington in the president’s humility; hints of FDR in his abjuring of fear; and hints of JFK in some of his phraseology and locutions: “To the Muslim world…;” “To those leaders around the globe…;” “to those who cling to power…”

There was not a lot of his hero, Abraham Lincoln, at least in the speech itself (but in the Lincolnian Bible), because for one thing it is hard to reconcile the Lincoln-Obama fantasizers to the fact that Lincoln said in his first Inaugural: “I do but quote from one of [my published] speeches when I declare that ‘I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.’ ”

The Obama inaugural speech was perfect in elocution, as one might expect from one of the finest speakers among presidents of the last 50 years (the best in order are presidents Reagan, Kennedy, Obama and Clinton).

President Obama came across as more conservative than in his campaign, emphasizing “responsibility,” praising the military and tamping down speculation of gigantic spending programs through a lack of emphasis and specificity in the speech regarding global warming, health care and new programs in general. (It would be difficult to wax eloquently about global warming during the current bitter cold wave.)

He avoided the pre-eminently pressing foreign policy problem, Iran’s possible soon acquisition of nuclear weapons, which acquisition has the potential to roil the global political status quo, especially in the Middle East. Perhaps this was to make negotiations possible, but this is one issue for which the outcome in the very near future will be unambiguous.

Of course, there is the pride in a nation for electing a man who 50+ years ago might not have been allowed to drink water from some public fountains in the United States. Of course his temperament is ideal, even to some of us conservatives. This Inaugural was not a bad beginning for President Obama, save the Iran omission, but his popularity will not be sustained at the current level; if, on the other hand, he (not He) tempers his idealism and becomes more realistic about rejecting the tempting false panacea of big spending programs and redistribution of wealth, he could have quite a successful and popular presidency.

Richard E. Vatz is professor of political rhetoric at Towson University

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