The speech

OK, I’m an Obama fan. Discount for that.

But even on a re-reading, this strikes me as a great oration. Looking forward to Obama’s Second Inaugural.


Tonight, more than 200 years after a former colony won the right to determine its own destiny, the task of perfecting our union moves forward.

It moves forward because of you. It moves forward because you reaffirmed the spirit that has triumphed over war and depression, the spirit that has lifted this country from the depths of despair to the great heights of hope, the belief that while each of us will pursue our own individual dreams, we are an American family and we rise or fall together as one nation and as one people.

Tonight, in this election, you, the American people, reminded us that while our road has been hard, while our journey has been long, we have picked ourselves up, we have fought our way back, and we know in our hearts that for the United States of America the best is yet to come.

I want to thank every American who participated in this election…

… whether you voted for the very first time or waited in line for a very long time. (By the way, we have to fix that.)

… whether you pounded the pavement or picked up the phone…

… whether you held an Obama sign or a Romney sign, you made your voice heard and you made a difference.

I just spoke with Governor Romney and I congratulated him and Paul Ryan on a hard-fought campaign.

We may have battled fiercely, but it’s only because we love this country deeply and we care so strongly about its future. From George to Lenore to their son Mitt, the Romney family has chosen to give back to America through public service and that is the legacy that we honor and applaud tonight.

In the weeks ahead, I also look forward to sitting down with Governor Romney to talk about where we can work together to move this country forward.

I want to thank my friend and partner of the last four years, America’s happy warrior, the best vice president anybody could ever hope for, Joe Biden.

And I wouldn’t be the man I am today without the woman who agreed to marry me 20 years ago.

Let me say this publicly: Michelle, I have never loved you more. I have never been prouder to watch the rest of America fall in love with you, too, as our nation’s first lady.

Sasha and Malia, before our very eyes you’re growing up to become two strong, smart beautiful young women, just like your mom.

And I’m so proud of you guys. But I will say that for now one dog’s probably enough.

To the best campaign team and volunteers in the history of politics…

The best. The best ever. Some of you were new this time around, and some of you have been at my side since the very beginning.

But all of you are family. No matter what you do or where you go from here, you will carry the memory of the history we made together and you will have the life-long appreciation of a grateful president. Thank you for believing all the way, through every hill, through every valley.

You lifted me up the whole way and I will always be grateful for everything that you’ve done and all the incredible work that you put in.

I know that political campaigns can sometimes seem small, even silly. And that provides plenty of fodder for the cynics that tell us that politics is nothing more than a contest of egos or the domain of special interests. But if you ever get the chance to talk to folks who turned out at our rallies and crowded along a rope line in a high school gym, or saw folks working late in a campaign office in some tiny county far away from home, you’ll discover something else.

You’ll hear the determination in the voice of a young field organizer who’s working his way through college and wants to make sure every child has that same opportunity.

You’ll hear the pride in the voice of a volunteer who’s going door to door because her brother was finally hired when the local auto plant added another shift.

You’ll hear the deep patriotism in the voice of a military spouse whose working the phones late at night to make sure that no one who fights for this country ever has to fight for a job or a roof over their head when they come home.

That’s why we do this. That’s what politics can be. That’s why elections matter. It’s not small, it’s big. It’s important. Democracy in a nation of 300 million can be noisy and messy and complicated. We have our own opinions. Each of us has deeply held beliefs. And when we go through tough times, when we make big decisions as a country, it necessarily stirs passions, stirs up controversy.

That won’t change after tonight, and it shouldn’t. These arguments we have are a mark of our liberty. We can never forget that as we speak people in distant nations are risking their lives right now just for a chance to argue about the issues that matter, the chance to cast their ballots like we did today.

But despite all our differences, most of us share certain hopes for America’s future. We want our kids to grow up in a country where they have access to the best schools and the best teachers.

A country that lives up to its legacy as the global leader in technology and discovery and innovation, with all the good jobs and new businesses that follow.

We want our children to live in an America that isn’t burdened by debt, that isn’t weakened by inequality, that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.

We want to pass on a country that’s safe and respected and admired around the world, a nation that is defended by the strongest military on earth and the best troops this – this world has ever known.

But also a country that moves with confidence beyond this time of war, to shape a peace that is built on the promise of freedom and dignity for every human being. We believe in a generous America, in a compassionate America, in a tolerant America, open to the dreams of an immigrant’s daughter who studies in our schools and pledges to our flag.

To the young boy on the south side of Chicago who sees a life beyond the nearest street corner.

To the furniture worker’s child in North Carolina who wants to become a doctor or a scientist, an engineer or an entrepreneur, a diplomat or even a president – that’s the future we hope for. That’s the vision we share. That’s where we need to go – forward.

That’s where we need to go.

Now, we will disagree, sometimes fiercely, about how to get there. As it has for more than two centuries, progress will come in fits and starts. It’s not always a straight line. It’s not always a smooth path.

By itself, the recognition that we have common hopes and dreams won’t end all the gridlock or solve all our problems or substitute for the painstaking work of building consensus and making the difficult compromises needed to move this country forward. But that common bond is where we must begin. Our economy is recovering. A decade of war is ending. A long campaign is now over.

And whether I earned your vote or not, I have listened to you, I have learned from you, and you’ve made me a better president. And with your stories and your struggles, I return to the White House more determined and more inspired than ever about the work there is to do and the future that lies ahead.

Tonight you voted for action, not politics as usual.

You elected us to focus on your jobs, not ours. And in the coming weeks and months, I am looking forward to reaching out and working with leaders of both parties to meet the challenges we can only solve together. Reducing our deficit. Reforming our tax code. Fixing our immigration system. Freeing ourselves from foreign oil. We’ve got more work to do.

But that doesn’t mean your work is done. The role of citizens in our Democracy does not end with your vote. America’s never been about what can be done for us. It’s about what can be done by us together through the hard and frustrating, but necessary work of self-government. That’s the principle we were founded on.

This country has more wealth than any nation, but that’s not what makes us rich. We have the most powerful military in history, but that’s not what makes us strong. Our university, our culture are all the envy of the world, but that’s not what keeps the world coming to our shores.

What makes America exceptional are the bonds that hold together the most diverse nation on earth.

The belief that our destiny is shared; that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations. The freedom which so many Americans have fought for and died for come with responsibilities as well as rights. And among those are love and charity and duty and patriotism. That’s what makes America great.

I am hopeful tonight because I’ve seen the spirit at work in America. I’ve seen it in the family business whose owners would rather cut their own pay than lay off their neighbors, and in the workers who would rather cut back their hours than see a friend lose a job.

I’ve seen it in the soldiers who reenlist after losing a limb and in those SEALs who charged up the stairs into darkness and danger because they knew there was a buddy behind them watching their back.

I’ve seen it on the shores of New Jersey and New York, where leaders from every party and level of government have swept aside their differences to help a community rebuild from the wreckage of a terrible storm.

And I saw just the other day, in Mentor, Ohio, where a father told the story of his 8-year-old daughter, whose long battle with leukemia nearly cost their family everything had it not been for health care reform passing just a few months before the insurance company was about to stop paying for her care.

I had an opportunity to not just talk to the father, but meet this incredible daughter of his. And when he spoke to the crowd listening to that father’s story, every parent in that room had tears in their eyes, because we knew that little girl could be our own.

And I know that every American wants her future to be just as bright. That’s who we are. That’s the country I’m so proud to lead as your president.

And tonight, despite all the hardship we’ve been through, despite all the frustrations of Washington, I’ve never been more hopeful about our future.

I have never been more hopeful about America. And I ask you to sustain that hope. I’m not talking about blind optimism, the kind of hope that just ignores the enormity of the tasks ahead or the roadblocks that stand in our path. I’m not talking about the wishful idealism that allows us to just sit on the sidelines or shirk from a fight.

I have always believed that hope is that stubborn thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us so long as we have the courage to keep reaching, to keep working, to keep fighting.

America, I believe we can build on the progress we’ve made and continue to fight for new jobs and new opportunity and new security for the middle class. I believe we can keep the promise of our founders, the idea that if you’re willing to work hard, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from or what you look like or where you love. It doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, able, disabled, gay or straight, you can make it here in America if you’re willing to try.

I believe we can seize this future together because we are not as divided as our politics suggests. We’re not as cynical as the pundits believe. We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions, and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are and forever will be the United States of America.

And together with your help and God’s grace we will continue our journey forward and remind the world just why it is that we live in the greatest nation on Earth.

Thank you, America. God bless you. God bless these United States.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

33 thoughts on “The speech”

  1. But even on a re-reading, this strikes me as a great oration.

    I hate listening to speeches because so many of them are larded up with BS, not to mention usually being much ado about nothing, but my thought last night was that was the greatest speech I ever heard him give.

    A stemwinder for sure.


    1. I had thought that a stemwinder was a speech that made you look at your pocket watch (wound up by its stem) to see how long this had been going on. But here’s a site that says otherwise (with some comments from folks who had my impression):

      I remember Joey Smallwood, a populist Newfoundland politician of the mid-20th century, saying that it was all right if people looked at their watches during your speech, but it was not a good sign if they took them off and started tapping them.

      Was the President using a teleprompter that was not visible to me from my home TV, or did he have that one from memory? He did have some good points, including some answers to ‘what good is government?’ and ‘why do people do politics anyway?’ that unfortunately need answering these days.

      1. Regarding stemwinder, the OED has this:

        stem-winder n. U.S. (a) a keyless watch; (b) a geared logging locomotive (Webster, 1911); (c) slang a person or thing that is first-rate; also, an enterprising or energetic person; an impassioned talker or public speaker; (d) slang a rousing speech.

  2. I guess this would have been both inappropriate and too much to ask:

    And I’m so proud of you guys. But I will say that for now one dog’s probably enough. And I promise, I’ll never strap Bo to the roof of Air Force One.

    1. When you run for president and win, you are free to leave it out.

      His god-bothering is less than any recent president, by my memory.

      1. He also sometimes (though sadly not consistently) includes people of no faith when he rhetorically attempts to inclusively embrace people of various faiths. This is, by American standards, fairly radical. If you read his memoir, Obama was raised as an Atheist joined the Black church because he realized that without it he could never make progress in his attempts to lead his community, and his professions of faith, sincere or not, were probably prerequisites for his political career. Polls have frequently shown that more respondents say they would elect a Muslim than an Atheist.

        1. Obama’s rhetorical inclusion of people of no faith might be radical by American standards, but he follows in the footsteps of his Republican predecessor:

          “We will keep a commitment to pluralism—not discriminating for or against Methodists or Mormons or Muslims, or good people of no faith at all.”

          Gov. George W. Bush, July 22, 1999, in one of the first speeches of his presidential campaign, to an audience of inner-city clergy.

        2. I distinctly remember GWB including “people of no faith” in a closing argument in a 2004 debate with Kerry who, by contrast, emphasized his piety, military service, etc. Candidates play against type to expand their coalition.

  3. Um, sorry but I thought it started off well then went south, and went on much too long. No, I am not going to read that thing, the first time was enough.

    And I like the guy too.

    He needs an editor, or three.

    But, I am very very happy he got re-elected. I thought he would, but I was still a little worried.

  4. Great speech, loved the part where he mentions the father sharing the story about his daughter’s fight with leukemia. Looked like he choked up a bit, a solemn moment that he followed with a rising call to action.

    Also, thought it was telling that he took a last walk in front of the crowd after everyone else left the stage. Can’t imagine the relief, and excitement that must have been flowing through him at that moment.

    I watched PBS’s coverage and was surprised to see how critical Mark Shields was of Obama. True Shields looked exhausted by the end of the telecast, but I was shocked to hear him give credit for the Affordable Care Act to Nancy Pelosi. From all the coverage that I saw I really think pundits on both sides missed the importance of this election, although I think the Wall Street Journal editorial today acknowledged (in their own way) how Obamacare is going to make a huge difference, maybe not in itself, but at the very least, a solid step in the direction of Universal Health Care. With Romney and all his day one promises going down in flames, progressives should rejoice in the fact that the ACA will remain in place.

  5. Hey, if Obama is ACA’s father, Pelosi is certainly ACA’s mother, and the analogy is apt, because mother mammals have the much more difficult, bloody task, while the glory so often goes to the father.

  6. Note the line “In the weeks ahead, I also look forward to sitting down with Governor Romney to talk about where we can work together to move this country forward.” This is wishful thinking.

    An interesting characteristic of the American system is that the losing Presidential candidate is immediately irrelevant and the losing party is immediately leaderless. The losing candidate has no official status. I doubt very much that Boehner or Cantor will even give him the time of day.

    In a parliamentary system the leader of the losing party has a job to do. He/she heads the official opposition and often comes with years of government/parliamentary experience.

    1. Not so much. It is at the least my impression that when a party loses in a parliamentary system, that party’s leader is almost always booted from leadership immediately after. They may nominally retain party leadership for a time, but only as a custodian for the person chosen to replace them. There may be some exceptions in modern times where the leader of a defeated party held on to fight the next cycle (I stress “modern times” because I’m aware of a LONG back-and-forth between Disraeli and Gladstone), but those would mostly have been incredibly close losses, or losses that were completely predictable and that contained promising indications of a future resurgence.

      In our own country’s closest analogy to a parliamentary system – the leadership of the House Of Representatives – it was surprising (if, to me, welcome) when Nancy Pelosi managed to retain her party leadership after the 2010 midterms. Had the Dems taken the house, I doubt Boehner would have been treated the same.

      1. I think you’re generally right that parliamentary PMs generally retire as leader (whether jumping or pushed) when their party loses the majority, but there is a relatively modern exception: UK PM Harold Wilson became leader of the opposition when Labour lost the 1970 general election, remaining in that role until he became PM again after the February 1974 election. And indeed, Edward Heath remained as Tory leader after that election, not being forced out until the Conservatives lost a second general election later that year, when he was finally replaced by Margaret Thatcher.

        1. I was aware of the 1970s UK history as counterargument, but less firm on the details, and just decided the UK in the 1970s was a weird mess (see for example Francis Wheen’s book on the subject). I was thinking more of the series of Thatcher dispatching a couple of Labour leaders, and the seemingly pathetic series of Tory leaders Blair saw off.

        2. And it works the other way. It is quite common for the Leader of the opposition to remain in place even though losing an election. There are even cases where after a few cycles the party does win and the leader get elevated to PM.

          1. How many times did Berlusconi lose, hold on as leader of the opposition, and return? A lot depends on how you get to be leader in the first place.

    2. It’s clear enough why Obama did that: Romney now disappears into history’s ash bin, unless he appears at the President’s behest to contribute, uhhh, whatever it is that Rmoney is capable of contributing. We’ll find out if it really is about America or about Romney by whether he responds, and we’ll see how worthless his vulture-capitalist / snake-oil salesman “ideas” are by what he offers in the way of helpful solutions.

  7. IMHO it started and ended as wonderful, there were too many words in the middle.

    I also liked the moment at the beginning when the family walked on stage – wonderful visual – and the youngest daughter reminded dad to look behind him. Great family, and you can’t imagine the callous plutocrat’s family acting that way.

  8. It was a great day for the forces of light, but…

    When has Barack Obama not been capable of rhetoric that can move the soul?

    Talk is cheap. Thinking he can sit down with Mitt Romney and get anywhere we need to go, or should go, is perfectly delusional. As someone put it today, John Kasich might have some promise, however.

    Let’s wait and see what he does with Mandate #2. We, meaning the liberals and progressives and women and Latinos and LGBTs of this country, have saved his ass once again. Repayment will be demanded up front this time. As I hope for change.

    1. Thinking he can sit down with Mitt Romney and get anywhere we need to go, or should go, is perfectly delusional.

      It’s called a sop.
      For non-saps that means: throwing your opponents and the low-info voters a bone.

      As for Mr. Obama not knowing what his opponents are about: Stand that nonsense down…
      That was once very true. But after the debt-ceiling crisis it will never be true again.
      Mr. Obama knows what our opposition/tea-bastards are about.

      We are in fugging war for control of reality. Nothing less.
      And to drink a deep dose of those two realities, I highly recommend a rereading of the Chait piece down below.
      It is a timely refresher on the bullet we dodged last night, and the one we instead, buried in their brains:

      1. PS…

        One of my favorite quotes from the Chait piece:


        The odd thing about the debt-ceiling debacle is that the deal Obama tried to cut with Republicans may have been absurdly generous, but the deal he actually got was pretty favorable. It required the establishment of a bipartisan commission that had to agree to $1.5 trillion worth of reductions—which, of course, it could not, for the same reason every other bipartisan deficit negotiation failed—or else automatic cuts would take place in 2013. Because Republicans refused to allow higher revenue to make up any part of those cuts, and insisted all the automatic deficit reduction consist of lower spending, Obama made his own demand: that he have a greater say in what kind of spending would suffer cuts. Social Security and Medicare benefits were exempted, though cuts to Medicare providers were not. Programs that benefit the poor were likewise spared, but defense absorbed a huge proportion of the automatic cuts.

        The idea was to turn the Republican coalition against itself. As the clock ticked toward January, doctors, hospitals, and—most especially—defense contractors would be confronted with terrifyingly large reductions in their income stream. Voiding those cuts would require convincing Obama to sign a law undoing them, which he would not do unless the replacement plan met his definition of fairness, which meant including higher tax revenue from the rich. This has had precisely its intended effect. Executives and lobbyists have begun to beseech Republicans to accept a budget deal that includes higher revenue along with lower spending. Republican defense hawks like John McCain and Lindsey Graham have signed a letter calling for a “balanced bipartisan deficit reduction package,” which is Beltway code for a deal mixing taxes and spending.

        What really lured Republicans into a trap was the timing of the arrangement. The beginning of 2013, when the automatic spending cuts take effect, coincides with the expiration of every penny of the Bush tax cuts. And so, by postponing the fiscal reckoning, Republicans inadvertently scheduled it for the very moment when Obama (should he win reelection) will hold his maximum leverage. Last summer, Obama was pleading with Boehner to give him $800 billion in additional revenue. Come January, he’ll have $5 trillion in higher revenue without doing anything. Since Obama’s own budget proposes to raise only $1.5 trillion in new revenue and trim entitlement spending, he could then offer Republicans a deal that cuts taxes (by, say, a couple trillion dollars), increases military spending, and reduces entitlement spending. In other words, he could offer a right-wing bill—and the end result would be a mix of policies to the left of his own budget, and to the left of the Simpson-Bowles proposal.


  9. There were two things that struck me in that speech. The first – “We want our children to live in an America that isn’t burdened by debt, that isn’t weakened by inequality, that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.” I hope that’s not ordered by decreasing importance. And the second – “And in the coming weeks and months, I am looking forward to reaching out and working with leaders of both parties to meet the challenges we can only solve together. Reducing our deficit. Reforming our tax code. Fixing our immigration system. Freeing ourselves from foreign oil.” This was the closest thing I saw to an agenda for the next term. Together, these two quotes make him come across as quite the deficit hawk. Reforming the tax code sounds an awful lot like the Republican formulation of the revenue side of a grand bargain. And while I like the idea of fixing the immigration system, freeing ourselves from foreign oil sure sounds like a slogan that doesn’t address the destructive power of a warming planet or solve any other real problem. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but if this is a glimpse at his agenda, I don’t find it particularly reassuring, or inspiring.

  10. “We want our children to live in an America that isn’t burdened by debt, that isn’t weakened by inequality, that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.”

    Not in priority order, in perfect rhetorical order.

    First, get the attention of the people who care most about the national debt, or think they do, and get them nodding their heads. These people are skeptics and won’t even hear this line if something else comes first.

    Second, speak to the broadest part of your base and get them nodding their heads.

    Lastly, bring up the thing that’s critically important but that many of the first two groups are not yet very invested in and take advantage of the fact that their heads are already nodding.

    The order is brilliant.

    1. For the second time, Obama has recognized climate breakdown for what it is. Even better, he left out the tactical “all of the above” energy policy stuff, and camouflaging the energy transition as a matter of green jobs.

      Simultaneously praising and belittling Mitt Romney as George Romney’s son was masterly.

    2. P.S.: Obama’s soft line during hid first term on coal, gas and oil was repaid by a flood of PAC money from fossil fuel billionaires and corporations to unseat him. Obama seems unusually un-vengeful as a politician, but the political calculus now points to cutting the fossil industries down to size and rewarding his green energy supporters more decisively.

    3. P.S.2: One early sign will be if Obama replaces the competent technocrat Steven Chu as Energy Secretary – the kind of man you need if your priorities are energy R&D, the smart grid, fuel economy standards, but not to pilot radical policy change. Bill Clinton?

      It’s true that the Republican House majority will be able to block legislation for the next 2 years, so the play would have to be part of a strategy for the 2014 mid-terms. The Democrats can plausibly count on an improving economy and a successful rollout of Obamacare’s main provisions.

      1. Steven Chu appears to be a competent technocrat but close-up he is more interested in funding the will ‘o wisp of fusion and favorite research projects of the oil companies than real investment in renewables.

  11. The opening to the speech is spectacularly egotistical and bombastic. By electing him Americans have proven their greatness?

    Spare me.

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