Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Obama's America, better than what Founders imagined

By David Rothkopf, Special to CNN
updated 10:12 AM EST, Tue January 22, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • David Rothkopf: Inaugural addresses are more like prayers than speeches
  • Obama's words sketched an America better than what Founders imagined, he says
  • Rothkopf: President rightly demanded equal rights for gays, equal pay for women

Editor's note: David Rothkopf is CEO and editor-at-large of the FP Group, publishers of Foreign Policy magazine, and a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Washington (CNN) -- Inaugural addresses are more like prayers than speeches. Their words tend to soar. They seek to inspire. They are lists of goals to which we aspire as a nation. They inevitably describe America as we might wish it to be.

They are not blueprints. Their promises tend to be as ephemeral as the gusty winds that blew around President Barack Obama as he stood before the crowd of dignitaries and onlookers on Capitol Hill today at noon. And like those winds, his words glanced off and darted around the very real problems this president will face in trying to realize the goals he set.

David Rothkopf
David Rothkopf

Obama's words acknowledged the problems were there -- some of which were actually the faces in the crowd around him, some of which were their beliefs, some of which were the interests they represent, some of which were the broken system they are part of -- but for a moment at least, they were freed from the need to say exactly how we would break our logjams and rise to defuse the crises of which he spoke.

Opinion: Obama's ringing defense of liberalism

There will be a time for that later -- during his State of the Union speech February 12, during press conferences, during other addresses, guidance to his supporters and challenges to his opponents.

But Inaugural speeches, because they have been a tradition for so long, do have the effect of enabling us to see very real changes, to measure this moment against others. So once again we heard from an African-American president in a country for which racism has been a chronic disease since the days of its conception.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



We had a man from humble beginnings assuming the most powerful role in the world. We had a president demanding equal rights for gay Americans and equal pay for women without fearing he was in so doing veering from the mainstream of American views or values -- and without celebrating the kind of progress we should have made on both fronts long, long ago.

Inaugural poet: My story is America's

We had a speech that was no longer addressing the concerns of a nation at war as have such addresses over the past decade. We had a speech that was not like his last Inaugural speech -- a call to action in a moment of acute crisis.

We also had a speech that devoted real attention to perhaps the greatest challenge the world faces at the moment: climate change.

Inaugural poet shares message of unity
Pres. Obama takes oath for second term

We could hope, as we listened, that on this great issue, like others demanding answers now -- bringing our fiscal house in order, restoring equality of opportunity to our economy, ending our country's sick obsession with guns -- that future Inaugural addresses would be able to note the kind of material progress that we have seen with regard to combating racism or ending wars.

Obama embraces key social justice movements in inaugural address

As such, today's speech did just what we might hope, capturing where we are and where we ought to be going. And it did it in the way our Founding Fathers envisioned, through the words of a man elected by the people of America to lead them.

The great beauty of the speech was not in any particular phrase, but in that the man in question and the country he leads were in so many ways far beyond what the Founders could have imagined. And that, despite our natural tendency to glorify our origins, that this America was in virtually every way better than the one they offered up to us.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary were solely those of David Rothkopf.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:10 PM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
If Obama thinks pushing out Hagel will be seen as the housecleaning many have eyed for his national security process, he'll be disappointed, says David Rothkopf.
updated 8:11 AM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
The decision by the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney to announce the Ferguson grand jury decision at night was dangerous, says Jeff Toobin.
updated 3:57 AM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
China's influence in Latin America is nothing new. Beijing has a voracious appetite for natural resources and deep pockets, says Frida Ghitis.
updated 4:51 PM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a press conference in the capital Tehran on June 14, 2014.
The decision to extend the deadline for talks over Iran's nuclear program doesn't change Tehran's dubious history on the issue, writes Michael Rubin.
updated 2:25 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
updated 7:44 AM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
updated 6:29 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
updated 8:34 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
updated 3:12 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
updated 10:13 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
updated 8:21 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
updated 5:56 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
updated 3:11 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
updated 8:45 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
updated 10:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
updated 12:59 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
updated 9:58 PM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
updated 4:41 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
updated 8:21 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
updated 7:16 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
updated 11:07 PM EST, Sun November 16, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT