Masterful Rhetoric

Jan 23 2013, 01:41 IST
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SummaryIn an eloquent prose, Obama expertly lays out his vision for the US but fails to heed the opposition.

The beauty of US Presidential inaugurations is that they provide an unrivaled audience and space for a leader to lay his vision out. Abraham Lincoln used this to imagine a society without slavery, and Ronald Reagan declared that “government is the problem” for economic ills. As used as the world is to Barack Obama’s flair with the spoken word, his second inaugural address transcended his first one in achieving this aspect. Back in 2009, Obama talked about uniting the disparate sections of the American political class. But, humbled, and sometimes humiliated by ideological division around him, Obama this time chose to give an extremely eloquent defence of his political philosophy.

The central tenet of the speech bound civic virtue with an active government and a social-safety net, coupled with the ritual reaffirmation of socially liberal causes like gay marriage. “Together”, noted Obama, “we determined that a modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel, commerce” and that “free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure...fair play”. A more forceful remark (perhaps at Romney’s gaffe) declared that Medicare & Social Security “do not make us a nation of takers” but “free us to take the risks that make this country great”. A surprising aspect was the attention he paid to the cause of climate change— denied by most of the GOP—by “promising to respond” to its threat.

What the speech lacked was a concession to the opposition that Obama may have needed to get the recalcitrant GOP to cooperate—a sincere ponder over the deficit would have done the trick, but instead Obama bluntly refused “to choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future”. Nonetheless, in terms of substance, rhetoric and structure, there is more than enough in this inaugural address for Rahul Gandhi to learn from.

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