2009 Inauguration Highlights: Obama's Speech Was Textbook

Great speeches tend to have a few elements in common. They connect to time and history, make use of metaphor, and present a narrative of overcoming adversity. 

It's a rhythm that Obama has nailed over the years and was on display four years ago in his 2009 inauguration speech, which began with:

My fellow citizens:

I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors.

The opening quickly gave way to metaphor:

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.

And then came the narrative, which that year, was that we Americans were facing a bleak world filled with terror but this would be a turning point:

Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened.... These are the indicators of crisis.... Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land -- a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable.... 

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.

And as you read the speech, these elements continue to come back, of history, metaphor, and the narrative that darkness abounds but we Americans will not be cowed.

His few final sentences put all these elements together:

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.

Look for a similar rhythm tomorrow, when he gives his public address on January 21, 2013. What will the narrative be this time?

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Michael McCutcheon

Michael was formerly special projects editor at Mic. Prior to that, he worked at the Open Society Foundations on electoral reform. A native Seattleite, he's still mad about the SuperSonics.

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