Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inaugural Addresses Past

While you are replaying the Obama inauguration speech from today, check out what C-Span (and YouTube) put together: a collection of past inaugural addresses (yay!).

Here you can check out previous addresses from George W. Bush (2001), Bill Clinton (1993), George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan (1981), Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon (1969), Lyndon Johnson (1965), John Kennedy, Dwight Eisenhower (1953), Harry Truman, and FDR (1933).

The average speech plays out around 15 minutes, so you don't have to vest much time, but just catching snippets of several, it's amazing how much they mirror one another in theme. No one doubts the country is going through hard times right now (economically, war, etc.) but when you listen to these other speeches, it becomes apparent that the country has been at the precipice of all kinds of disasters over the years. For example, listening to FDR, Nixon, and Reagan, we were at risk of economic, domestic and nuclear annihilation as they assumed the office.

For example, who said this:

We are caught in war, wanting peace. We are torn by division, wanting unity. We see around us empty lives, wanting fulfillment. We see tasks that need doing, waiting for hands to do them. To a crisis of the spirit, we need an answer of the spirit...

Barack Obama? Try Richard Nixon.

Part of it is no doubt rhetorical in nature (virtually every incoming president talked about how "hard" things are going to get and be), and part of it is to lower expectations. But while Obama faces obstacles that seem "unprecedented" (as so many media wags like to say), the fact is that the country has faced as bad or worse. And appealing to "better angels," as Lincoln put it, is a way each president has tried to motivate the country to get behind them and their agenda.

In that sense, the 44th president carries on the tradition.

No comments: