Tuesday at 10 a.m., staff writer Hector Tobar and I will do a live video chat about President Obama's presidential inauguration from a literary point of view. Last week, Tobar wrote about the lessons Obama might draw from previous inaugural speeches; we'll talk about how we thought he did, and also discuss Richard Blanco's commemorative poem.
Such conversations come up around every inaugural, which are, among other things, showcases for a president's acuity with words. Think of John F. Kennedy, himself a Pulitzer Prize-winner, or Franklin Delano Roosevelt, with his stirring declaration that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself."
Obama, however, is different: I've long thought of him as the writer's president. His 1995 memoir "Dreams From My Father" — published, unlike JFK's "Profiles in Courage," before the start of its author's political career — is perhaps the most open book I've ever read by a national leader, establishing Obama in three dimensions, as a complex, and even contradictory, human being.
We're not accustomed to seeing such vulnerability from our presidents, but this is what makes Obama transformational in so many ways. And yet, it sets a high bar for him any time he has to make a statement that is supposed to move us, that is less about policy than rhetoric.
That's one of the points of an inaugural address — not only to make a policy statement but to appeal, as Abraham Lincoln suggested in his first such speech, to "the better angels of our nature."
Did Obama pull it off? How does his second inaugural rank? Please join us Tuesday morning to find out what we think.
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