When his candidacy was threatened by the incendiary sermons of Jeremiah Wright, Mr. Obama turned to the bully pulpit. The public was about evenly divided about whether he could pull off a major speech on race. In spite of accusations that he was willing to throw his former pastor and his grandmother "under the bus" in order to win an election, he received accolades for balancing recognition of racial prejudice with acknowledging the sensitivities of working-class white citizens. Perhaps more important, he was widely admired for taking on a difficult subject without flinching.
Certainly, this president faces challenges more daunting than many previous presidents faced. In addition, he faces a jaded public not easily moved by words; a people who want action. Even so, on January 20 everybody will be listening to the new president's words, with hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions, making the trek to Washington, D.C., to view the event in person.
If Mr. Obama merely gives a speech appealing to members of his party on Inauguration Day, his presidency will be characterized by a partisanship that stalemates progress. On the other hand, his inaugural address could be a pivotal point in the nation's history. Carefully crafted words can lift the public's imagination to more lofty thoughts; inspirational words can move the public beyond mundane concerns to a higher plane of mutual priorities.
If Mr. Obama's first speech as the nation's president captures the hearts of all citizens - Democrats, Republican, and Independents alike - challenging us to greater national identity and civic loyalty, he will open the door for leadership that is transformative and prepare the way for a brighter, more hopeful future for all Americans - conservative or liberal, black or white.
Even those who didn't vote for him, sincerely -- no, fervently -- hope that he is up to the task. The greater good of America calls for a powerful inaugural address to launch a successful presidential term of office; should he effectively put the country's real and pressing needs ahead of partisanship and ideology, I could rejoice in affirming his leadership and look forward to his presidency.
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