I am looking forward to hearing what our next president, Barack Obama, will say in his inaugural address. The real test - the ultimate question - is whether Mr. Obama will be able to rise to the level that circumstances demand and transcend the pervasive cynicism of a populace longing for an end to partisan bickering and hopeful for a leader who will, indeed, make us "one nation under God."
Abraham Lincoln, still the model for great American political oratory, was a master at crafting remarks perfectly fitting the occasion with exactly the right phrase to express an idea or emotion. In his first inaugural address, Lincoln put words to the nation's longing for a new day after deeply held convictions divided the nation into hostile factions. He 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."
Mr. Obama will certainly hope that his words will, in like manner, "touch the mystic chords of memory" to bring forth the "better angels of our nature."
The newly sworn-in President will also be hoping that a sentence or phrase from his speech will live on in history as memorably as those of Roosevelt, Reagan and Kennedy. Franklin Roosevelt said, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." Reagan memorably challenged the Germans to "tear down this wall." John F. Kennedy, who is supposed to have patterned his speeches after great speeches of the past, begged Americans to "ask not what your country can do for you," rather, he challenged his fellow citizens to "ask what you can do for your country."
Mr. Obama will have to live up to great expectations. His speech at the 2004 Democratic convention propelled him into the vanguard of his party. At that time, Obama declared, "There is not a liberal America and a conservative America - there is the United States of America. There is not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America - there's the United States of America."