Barack Obama has a reputation as a skilful and fluent public speaker. His address to the nation on the occasion of the inauguration of his second term in Presidency underscores this reputation. But style is one thing and substance is another. The crux of his message was for American people to expect no radical changes to the general direction of policies. Although delivered in all eloquence and with a sense of importance, a careful scrutiny of its content would reveal its vapidity.
But looking at the speech as an artefact of creative writing, there is some skill in the writing and delivery. For example the organization, punctuation and rhythm of the speech, there is merit to be found. The phrasing, pauses and iterations were so conceived as fitting to an oral presentation. In this regard the speech worked well with the large audience at the Capitol Hill. One can witness members of the audience hooting, nodding or clapping in approval during pauses in the speech. The repetitive usage of the phrase “We, the People…” added a sense of gravity to the delivery, as these were the same words with which the Preamble to the constitution begins. It thus invoked a sense of history and continuity from the time of the Declaration of Independence.
When one searches the speech for significant policy measures that would benefit the majority of the population there were hardly any. Platitude after platitude forms a tired old pattern. Allusions to ‘unity’, ‘racial equality’, ‘destiny’, ‘security’, ‘bipartisanship’, etc flow fluidly from the President’s tongue. There was nothing concrete to suggest if any of these sentiments will translate into constructive policy measure for the people. Seen in this view the speech can be termed as uninspiring. Although the tenor of President’s voice was serious and its effect on the audience somewhat dramatic, there is little of substance to the entire 20 minute long address to the nation.
President Obama covers foreign and domestic affairs without going into specifics. For instance he says that every child in America should have equal opportunity of success. But, whether this means greater infusion of funds for the public education system and an overall reduction in tuition fee is anybody’s guess. Likewise, Obama talked about creating a conducive environment for businesses. Taken as such it is a benign idea; but if he was implying huge bailouts for corporations out of tax-payer money then it is a bad deal for citizens. The President’s equivocations also spread to the most potent threat facing the survival of the human species (that, obviously, includes Americans). He said that America will do the needful to tackle climate change. But one only need to look at America’s voting record in United Nations conferences on climate change to figure how contradictory the President’s actions were. It is equally unclear how the President will make America a leader in alternative energy technologies. This is a dubious claim to make in light of the fact that America is the leading consumer of fossil fuels in the world and the oil company lobby holds way over members of the Congress and the Senate.
In sum, the inaugural speech by President Obama is pleasing on the ears of a casual listener. But the moment one analyses the assumptions, implications and practicalities behind the words, an unpleasant message emerges. The message to American people is to expect nothing drastic in terms of improvement of their quality of life. The President’s allusion to the legacy of a long chain of Presidents that will continue for centuries into the future is rather telling. It is the President’s way of saying that perhaps some President in the future will do something substantive to reduce the distress suffered by a majority of the American population.