When the President finished his inaugural speech the other week, I said to my wife Susan, “That was a great piece of rhetoric.” By that I did not mean a lot of flowery words strung together or a piece of political discourse from a particular party’s perspective. I meant it as high praise of a public address that transcends the immediate moment and inspires us as a people to live up to our nation’s principles. This one, unlike four years ago, felt like the caliber of speeches I had studied in college in a course on Rhetoric and Public Address.
At least that is what I thought I’d heard. The President talked about the unresolved problems that face us as a nation: immigration, gun reform, deficit control, climate change, economic inequality. He placed those within the context of this nation’s founding principles: life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness. Then the President reminded us how we Americans have always acted to resolve the issues that face us: from Seneca Falls to Selma to Stonewall – three locations that struck movements to expand democracy and make the pursuit of happiness more possible for more people.