Naturally, any president who delivers an inaugural address seems to take their own stab at one-upping the great lines of marble-men like John F. Kennedy or Abraham Lincoln. Every president who's sworn the oath wants to deliver that one line that will be remembered in the same breath as "ask not what your country can do for you" or "with malice toward none, with charity for all."
Consequently, inaugural addresses tend to be more poetry than prose -- broad, rhetorical ideals, which are subsequently subdivided into policy specifics in State of the Union addresses and other speeches. What ends up being delivered on Janurary 20 every four years are lines that sound great when delivered by statesmen to large crowds but which are rarely memorable. It's difficult to recall any outstanding lines from recent addresses of the top of my head. Certainly they've all been well-crafted speeches, but they haven't really been great speeches. Now, it's never easy to compete with the words of beloved leaders who were martyred in their prime because every word they've uttered has tended to become emblazoned everywhere, from Facebook memes to bronze plaques at the bases of memorial statues.
But I think President Obama came damn close to delivering what can easily be considered an historic speech and even a truly great speech.
Historians will regard today's inauguration with high praise for several reasons. [continue reading]