Paul Greenberg

Dear Critic,

It was wholly a pleasure to hear from you about our president's Second Inaugural address, which you found uplifting, eloquent, enthralling ... while I felt safe in asserting that, well, it wasn't Lincoln's. Surely that fact is beyond dispute.

I do thank you for writing; I learn most from my critics. Sometimes, like you, they pose a good question, as you did.

You noted that I quoted from the great inaugural addresses of the past -- Jefferson's and Lincoln's and FDR's -- in contrast to Barack Obama's. But what about more contemporary presidents, you asked. Can I think of any inaugural addresses in our own time that were any better than this president's a few weeks ago?

In a word, yes.

Consider an inaugural address delivered January 21, 1985, by another just re-elected president.

In his second inaugural, Ronald Reagan not only reached back to the past with pride, but forward to the future with hope:

"Four years ago, I spoke to you of a new beginning and we have accomplished that. But in another sense, our new beginning is a continuation of that beginning created two centuries ago when, for the first time in history, government, the people said, was not our master, it is our servant; its only power that which we the people allow it to have.

"That system has never failed us, but, for a time, we failed the system. We asked things of government that government was not equipped to give. We yielded authority to the national government that properly belonged to states or to local governments or to the people themselves. We allowed taxes and inflation to rob us of our earnings and savings and watched the great industrial machine that had made us the most productive people on Earth slow down and the number of unemployed increase.

"By 1980, we knew it was time to renew our faith, to strive with all our strength toward the ultimate in individual freedom consistent with an orderly society.

"We believed then and now there are no limits to growth and human progress when men and women are free to follow their dreams.

"And we were right to believe that. Tax rates have been reduced, inflation cut dramatically, and more people are employed than ever before in our history."

Here is the most prescient passage of Ronald Reagan's text that day:


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.