Friday Talking Points [62] -- Obama's Inaugural Speech

[ Posted Friday, January 23rd, 2009 – 18:13 UTC ]

This column really should have a subtitle to it: "Part 4 of Chris' Adventures At The Inauguration." I have been reporting my experiences of attending the Inauguration in a series of articles this week, and since I am going to devote the talking points to the best, most memorable lines of President Obama's Inaugural speech, this really should be part of this series.

People always say "it's hard to put it into words" for witnessing historic events, but personally, I've never had that problem. Ahem. Which is why I have an entire series of articles to link to here:

Sunday -- "As I Went Walking That Ribbon Of Highway"
Monday -- "The Day Before The Big Day"
Tuesday -- "Twenty-One Howitzer Salute"
Wednesday -- "'I Was There!' -- My Experience Of The Inauguration Of President Obama [Parts 1 & 2]"
Thursday -- "'I Was There!' -- My Experience Of The Inauguration Of President Obama [Part 3]"

Which brings us up to today. Tomorrow, I will post the final installment on my website, so check back if you want to see how it all turns out.

But before I begin, I have a mini-story to tell. The coolest thing that happened to me was completely unrelated to the event itself. I got to sit in the captain's chair of the airplane we flew home on. Parked at the gate, with time to kill, the crew came out and was chatty, so I asked if I could see the cockpit. I just wanted to duck my head in and marvel at all the techie stuff for 15 seconds, but the copilot insisted I sit down in the empty captain's chair. He then took five minutes or so to point out all the cool instruments and what a great view they had from up there, and answered all my questions. Even when I was a little kid, back when they let you go in the cockpit while in flight (if your parent asked), I never got to sit in the main seat. So I apologize for behaving as if I were eight years old, but man, that was cool!

Enough of that. Let's get the awards out of the way with, and then get on to Barack's speech [much like learning to write a new year on your checks, I'm still getting used to saying "President Obama" or "the president," but I'll try to get more in the habit of doing so, I promise].


Most Impressive Democrat of the Week



The 44th President Of The United States Of America
Barack Hussein Obama


Most Disappointing Democrat of the Week

There were two groups of individuals who were disappointing during the Inauguration. The first is the congressional committee who was in charge of the event. While each of them deserve a Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award (at least, the Democrats among them who qualify), we are already handing out two awards this week, so the statuette will have to go to the committee's chair, Senator Dianne Feinstein. About the best thing she did was manage to get a few California acts prominently featured (the San Francisco Boys Choir and San Francisco Girls Choir, and the only middle school band to march in the parade, Saratoga's Redwood Middle School Marching Band). I don't have a problem with that sort of state boosterism, and as a Californian myself felt great civic pride in the kids who got the experience of a lifetime by participating in the Inauguration.

What I do have a problem with is the way the event was handled. The problems were many, and I have detailed them in earlier articles this week (see links at top of this column). They were too many, frankly, to list here. But the biggest problem was crowd control. We weren't an unruly crowd, quite the opposite. Among 1.8 million people, not a single one got arrested for anything. But there was seemingly no "master plan" to deal with us.

It's not like they didn't know we were coming. Estimates of the expected crowd size before the event ran from one million to five million. And yet, they blew it. I was among the lucky, and viewed the event from the Mall, between 6th Street and 7th Street -- a prime location. But the sheer cluelessness and ineptitude I had to avoid from the security forces was astounding. It's not that they weren't trying to do the best job they could in a difficult situation, it's that there simply was no master plan for them to follow. In the days leading up to the event, there was a lot of detail about the parade route, including what you could and couldn't bring, where the security would be set up -- helpful details to plan your day. But although it was obvious that most people would be on the Mall, there was absolutely no information about how to get there, where to go, when to go, and what you could and couldn't bring. Nothing. The only advice given out to the public was "tents for overnight camping will not be allowed." That's it.

When exiting the nearby Metro stations, there was no information for the crowd whatsoever. Getting through the fences and onto the Mall was complete chaos. Some places, the cops would not let anyone through, some places they were letting people in, and in some places they were non-existent. None of the cops had any information, and even if they did they were not sharing any of it with the crowds.

This all could have been averted by about two officers at every major point (Metro exits, Mall entrances) with bullhorns telling the crowd what to do. That's all it would have taken. We would have cheerfully followed any directions given. The problem was, there was no directions at all from anyone.

In other words, no master plan. And that's just for the public areas of the Mall itself. People who had tickets -- thousands upon thousands of them -- were also denied entry at several locations. They did what they were told to do, lined up where they were told, and they just did not get in. No master plan at all.

Now, Feinstein has called for an investigation of what went wrong. If you were there and have a story to tell them, or some advice, use the email address below to let them know. Hopefully, they'll get the message.

But this locking of the barn door after the horses have fled isn't good enough for Dianne Feinstein to avoid her MDDOTW award. Because she spent all her congressional efforts, and assumably a lot of time and attention, on making it against federal law to sell Inauguration tickets. That was her main worry. So my suggestion is: next time, spend the same amount of time and effort on a master crowd control plan before the event, and don't worry about a little free enterprise with the tickets. Which is why Dianne Feinstein gets a Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award (her fifth, I should add).

She will have to share her award with another group of people, though. Because there's another group comprised mostly of Democrats (one would assume) who need singling out here as well for behavior not just disappointing but downright rude and disgusting. I looked for an image of this, but could not find one in the short time I had, so feel free to post a link if you've got one. But on television Tuesday night (I attended the swearing-in but not the parade) was an image of Barack and Michelle Obama standing virtually alone in a reviewing stand. The story was that the Obamas stayed until the end of the parade to watch every single participant, but the sea of empty chairs behind them spoke for itself. Nobody in the VIP reviewing booth but the Obamas stayed for the end of the parade. Now, the parade did start late, but even so, there is simply no excuse for this. Two million people nearly froze waiting to see this day, and the dignitaries couldn't be bothered to sit in a heated booth to watch the entire parade. I guess they had to rush off to change before their Inaugural Ball appearances or something. How would you have felt if your kid's marching band got the honor of appearing in the Inaugural Parade, and was met by an almost-empty booth at the end of it?

Significantly, the seat behind the Obamas was clearly labeled as reserved for "Senator Feinstein." Meaning we don't have to send out two statuettes after all, as the single Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award winds up doing dual duty for both groups of Democrats this week. And since Feinstein is so prominent in both groups, she herself gets the award.

[Contact the Inaugural Committee via email at if you have your own complaints or comments about crowd control at the Inauguration.]


Friday Talking Points

Volume 62 (1/23/09)

Was that a speech, or was that a speech? Conservative columnists have been trying to detract from President Obama's first speech to the nation by calling it various things in an attempt to slow down the Obama momentum, but my guess is that history will remember it differently, and their tawdry efforts will be seen as the sour grapes they truly are. Other conservatives are trying a different spin, saying because Obama mentioned "hard work" that it was really a conservative speech in some sort of liberal disguise. Oh, puh-leeze. Since when has hard work been the sole property of conservatives? Liberals don't work hard? Give me a break.

Because Obama's Inaugural speech was indeed masterful. When he started speaking, I was thinking "which line will be the one everyone focuses on?" In other words, which line will be the "nothing to fear but fear itself" or "ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country" moment? Both of those lines are from previous inaugurations, so what would be remembered from Obama's speech?

But I ran into a problem. There were just too many lines of that nature in one single speech for me to keep count of them all. The entire speech's text is well worth reading, even for those who have already heard it on television. It is a stunning call for America to return to greatness. It was virtually impossible for me to pull only seven things out of the speech worth quoting by future generations.

My initial impression while I was listening to the speech was to notice the way Obama used phrase after phrase to say essentially the same thing: our long national nightmare of the Bush years is over. We will change, and it will start today. It's a new day in America.

Here are some of the phrases Obama used to draw such a bright line between Bush's administration and what Obama is going to do with his: "failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age... we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord... On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.... our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions -- that time has surely passed.... Starting today... begin again... we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals... we are ready to lead once more... What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility."

Over and over again, the continuing theme of: America will start living up to its ideals... once again.

I strongly urge you to take the time and read the speech in full. Because these seven snippets just don't do it justice. What I have selected (they are arranged in the order in which Obama spoke them during the speech) are the seven things most likely to be quoted in the future (and already are being quoted by journalists). Not my favorite lines, or the most important lines, just the ones that I think will be remembered by history.

These are all taken straight from the transcript, and no further commentary by me is necessary this week.


   The time has come to set aside childish things

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.

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.


   We must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off

This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions -- that time has surely passed.

Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.


   Not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works

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.

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them, that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long, no longer apply.

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.


   The nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched.

But this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control. The nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous.


   Our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.

Our founding fathers faced with perils that we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations.

Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake.

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.

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with the sturdy alliances and enduring convictions.

They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. 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, guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort, even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We'll begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan.


   We will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist

We will not apologize for our way of life nor will we waver in its defense.

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."

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness.

We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth.

And because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.

To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict or blame their society's ills on the West, know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.

To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.


   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

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. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility -- a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

This is the source of our confidence: the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.

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.

So let us mark this day in remembrance of who we are and how far we have traveled.


Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground

Cross-posted at: The Huffington Post


-- Chris Weigant


2 Comments on “Friday Talking Points [62] -- Obama's Inaugural Speech”

  1. [1] 
    leighjane wrote:

    Hi Chris, great site, I am glad you made it to the Mall to see the great event because I can experience it vicariously through you. What a complete shambles!! We had to watch the swearing in through the window of the Green Turtle bar because we were not able to get to the mall, along with thousands of other people. We listened to Obama's speech on a car stereo turned up loud so a huge crowd could hear. Why were the crowds not funnelled from the Metro to the Mall where we would be contained and somewhat controllable. Instead thousands of people wandered from roadblock to roadblock for hours trapped in a huge maze, missing the whole thing we went to D.C. to see. A once in a lifetime experience was destroyed by outrageous incompetence. I hope a better plan is in place 4 years from now because I will be back to see Obama 2!!

  2. [2] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    leighjane -

    Welcome to the site!

    I strongly urge you to write to the email address below the "Most Disappointing" section of this article and let them know your experience. I would include the streets you were on, the Metro you took, and where you were denied entry.

    The fiasco of the crowd control has got to be addressed, so they do a better job next time. On the good side of things, the Metro seemed to do a bang-up job of getting people there and back. They had a record day of over one million riders, and we experienced some crowds, but no real problems.

    But seriously, you or I could probably have come up with a better crowd control master plan in about ten minutes. How about - shut down each section of the Mall when it fills, moving westward from the Capitol, and then tell the cops at the newly closed entrances to redirect people further west to get in. See? That wasn't that hard to do. Oh, and give the cops at each intersection radios and bullhorns. And keep them informed.

    Wow, that didn't even take ten minutes. More like thirty seconds.

    Anyway, you can still say "I was there" and that's what is important. I would be willing to bet there was half a million to one million people who were there, but didn't make it to the Mall to see it. Meaning the total crowd could have been closer to 3 million than 2.

    Anyway, thanks for writing, and check back here later today for "Part 5" where I finish the story up.


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