Obama’s Phrase Challenge

U.S. Senate

President Elect Barack Obama, courtesy: U.S. Senate

When Barack Obama makes his inaugural address Tuesday,  will he have a phrase that will compare with the impact of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s phrase about  fear?  Some are saying that president-elect Obama is being sworn in at a time very similar to 1933 when President Roosevelt rivited his audience to their radio’s with his inaugural speech sentence, ” The only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

 President Abraham Lincoln’s 1861 inaugral speech probably comes in second to FDR’s “fear” sentence, or ties with President John F. Kennedy’s “ask not” for second. 

 Lincoln said, “The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Kennedy’s most famous phrase is,  “My fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.” 
                                                                                                                                                                            
A report in the London Telegraph says President-elect Obama’s inaugral speech will harken back to Kennedy’s “Ask not…” appeal for shared reponsibility for getting the nation back on track.
President Jimmy Carter delivered no catchy, timeless line in his inaugural address.  I suppose his brave,  but futile, call for Americans to sacrifice for the common good,  is as close to one as he got.  He said, “So, together, in a spirit of individual sacrifice for the common good, we must simply do our best.”  That one went over like a lead balloon because America was in no mood to  sacrifice, individually or otherwise.  Carter’s greatest communication problem was that he couldn’t resist telling Americans the truth whether they wanted to hear it or not..

His successor, President Ronald Reagan, who understood the value of telling the American people what they wanted to hear,  only had one line in his inaugral that is remembered by a lot of people,  “Government is not the solution to our problem.”  But, guess what, he also had a stimulous package.  It was called the Emergency Jobs Credation Act, but it only cost taxpayers $9 billion. It’s not unusual for a president to say one thing and do another… just like the rest of us.

Obama is going to have a hard time coming up with anything that resonates like the Roosevelt “fear” phrase, which is probably the best known phrase of any president’s inaugural address.  However, there is a chance he will come up with a lasting line, because he,  like Roosevelt and Reagan,  is very good at oration, and he writes a lot of his own material, we’re told.  We’ll find out Tuesday.

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