Historically, Inaugural speeches seek to lay a foundation of what ails our country, provide a clear vision for the direction of the country while inspiring the American people for the challenges ahead. It is also an opportunity for the president to establish his tone and to appear strong to the American people and the world. Given the financial collapse and the two wars America faced, the country felt vulnerable and betrayed. Given his campaign promises, President Barack Obama’s 2008 inaugural speech had to accomplish a multitude of goals when addressing the country. Amazingly, President Obama achieves these goals by being frank and honest with the American people, having an authoritative tone, and making the speech personal to Americans.
In the very beginning of the speech, Obama thanks the former Bush administration; although that might seem like an insignificant gesture, it is done deliberately to establish the message of respect for one another, whether the country agrees or not. The result of the immediate respectful tone sets the stage for the rest of the speech. In his next paragraph, Obama proceeds to engage with the American people about our values as a country, “We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.” In this one excerpt alone, he has established a personal tone that speaks more towards the American people, rather than the dialogue be about them. The sincere tone in his voice during this section of the speech makes the message he’s putting across much more personable and allows it to resonate more with the American people. Obama’s bluntness about the economic troubles facing the country was direct and honest: “the challenges are real. They are serious, and they are many.” He purposely doesn’t go straight to making promises. Instead, he provides the American people with the reality that though there will be tough times ahead, we can overcome them, and he inspires great leadership and provides the American people adequate assurances that the challenges will be met, “But know this, America – they will be met.”
Halfway through Barack Obama’s speech, paragraphs 8-17, he stays consistent with his message of hope and optimism that won him the election. This section of the speech is when he begins addressing the American people directly, speaking about the overwhelming feeling of buoyancy throughout the country. He starts citing scripture, and even refers to the Declaration of Independence and reminds the people of the struggles that the country has overcome. “In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned.” With this line he taps into America’s fighting nature, suggesting real progress can come if we work together. It is done purposely to make sure his message of hope is felt and to assure the country that along with that hope, progressive action that comes with it will follow.
Obama then pivots to talking about the world and introducing the foreign policy we are going to see under his administration. Throughout paragraphs 21-26, we see a slew of strong statements, which he anchors with rational principles. The line that jumps off the page and resonates the most was “know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity and that we are ready to lead once more.” It has become a pattern and advantage of Obama’s speeches that he speaks directly to the people with so much enthusiasm and joy that his words resonate more with the people because he’s so personable. In the final section of Obama’s speech, he continues this trend of placing some of the progress that needs to be made back on the shoulders of the American people. Outstandingly drawing parallels between those who serve in our military and everyday citizens in an attempt to personify the American spirit, Obama masterfully delivers these parallels with a conclusion that encompasses his entire campaign of hope and hard work. “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.”
The universal rule of three has been taught for generations when it comes to writing and comprising your ideas into a cohesive text of understanding. Obama’s speech was no stranger when it came to delivering ideas or realities in rows of three’s, “Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered.” Some of the most efficient ways of writing and speaking come from this rule because it’s short, concise and gets to the root of your message; in this example, he connects personally with the American people, just as he does throughout the speech. “We must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America,” this quote, in particular, represent the assurances he provided throughout his entire campaign.
In the most crucial aspect of the whole speech, the theme of Obama’s inauguration speech was “drawing strength from our common past.” Obama is extremely well versed in the nation’s history and displays his incredible ability to deliver speeches in a calm, coherent manner. With an amazing ability to weave these two ideas together; the theme comes through more organically. In his most wordy and active lines, he states, “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. What is demanded then is a return to these truths.” It is this defining aspect of the speech and also the defining theme of the speech which resonates the most.
Throughout Barack Obama’s 2008 inaugural speech, he appeals to the hearts of the American people while also appealing to his own credibility. The easiness of combining both pathos and ethos becomes second nature due to his confidence in his ability to deliver the speech. Obama successfully weaves the hopefulness of the American people by directly speaking to them about his ability to successfully guide the country. Continuously, Obama appeals to the mindset of the American people by repeatedly connecting the struggles of the past to the present. In this regard, his 2008 inaugural speech was one of the most well-delivered speeches, that tugged at the hearts and minds of the American people. Above all else, the speech encapsulates everything a great speech should be: strong, simple and focused.
Here’s the link to the full speech: 2008 Barack Obama Inaugural Speech
Rutgers Student studying Political Science & Government with a minor in Journalism who has an interest in the intersection of journalism and political movements.