Inaugural addresses are not by their nature specific.
They are thematic.
They paint with broad strokes, setting a tone for what is to come.
President Obama's address today was no different. It contained the type of broad rhetoric that the new President is comfortable with: aspirational rather than operational.
Though he said that the real questions is not whether government is too big or too small but rather whether or not government works, Obama gave us no clues as to how he will decide which government programs work and which don't.
Yes, he hinted that he would get rid of certain government programs. But, which ones?
We just don't know.
And yes, Obama's remarks contained an implied answer to Reagan's declaration in 1981 that government is not the solution but government is, rather, the problem. Obama apparently assumes that government is the solution, no matter how big it gets. He just wants to make sure it works right.
Strong words of national defense in the speech were balanced by neo-liberal rhetoric about peace and understanding.
Still, while Obama seemed to reject "missiles and weapons" he lavished praise on our fighting men and women in the armed forces and pointed to their service as an example to all. Even though he stuck to his rhetoric on an eventual withdrawal from Iraq it was nice to hear him acknowledge the sacrifice of the military and to hear him evoke the memories of Washington and his army of the Revolution.
I think it was fine for President Obama to point to our diversity and to recognize as a source of strength and recognize the many faiths that practice in America. But I don't know why he felt the need to point out that that we are a nation of "non-believers" as well. Somehow that didn't sit right with me. It didn't settle well on my ears.
How can you criticize "cynics," challenging them and nearly mocking them while at the same time putting "non-believers" on the same plain as people of faith? We all know that so many of those "non-believers" are simply nihilists and/or cynics. Why grant them official recognition? Unfortunately, I must assume that this represented some morally fuzzy liberal thinking that crept into the speech.
This was certainly an historic occasion.
But was this an historic speech?
Will it be put alongside the four or five "great" Inaugural addresses: Jefferson, Lincoln, FDR, Kennedy?
At first blush I would have to guess "no."
It was a blessedly brief speech. And it was refreshingly non-egotistical, mentioning the word "I" only a few times. And it wisely Incorporated messages borrowed from our history and from scripture while striking classic themes.
But nothing really jumps out at me -- nothing that says: "Look at this. Study this. Think about this. Remember this. This is something to savor; something that sounds like it would stand the test of time."
Still, I'll read it again and consider it further.