Obama’s First Inaugural — Revised

What if America's new president had told us what would really happen in his first four years?

Alex Wong/Getty Images
Alex Wong/Getty Images

As Washington gears up for President Barack Obama’s second inaugural address, public opinion polls show that Americans have much lower expectations for Obama’s second term than they did four years ago for his first term. The soaring rhetoric of the 2008 campaign and Obama’s first inaugural address might have contributed to those inflated expectations. So, as a public service before his second term begins, we here at Foreign Policy thought it would be a good idea to revisit an abridged version of Obama’s first inaugural address and, in light of his first term, revise the text just a wee bit to reflect a more realistic era. Enjoy!

My fellow citizens: I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors the implacable opposition I am about to encounter.

I thank President Bush for his service to our nation as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition setting the bar super-low so that simple policy competence will make me look good.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real, they are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this America: They will be barely met in piecemeal fashion as we lurch from self-imposed crisis to crisis.

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear until someone tries to bomb a plane with explosives in their underpants, unity of purpose over conflict and discord until someone tries to build a mosque near Ground Zero.

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics. We will replace them with much larger recriminations, grander conspiracy theories, and even more stale dogma.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things and go straight for the truly infantile things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness our elected officials will continue to honor your quixotic, unsustainable preferences of lower taxes and more government services.

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts except for lame-duck sessions or settling for less.

It has not been the path for the faint-hearted, for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame compromise over sheer bloody-mindedness.

Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor — who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom. But let’s be clear about individual greatness — you didn’t build that.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life. For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West, endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth. And let me assure you that my administration will deport anyone who does try to come to this country unannounced and work hard.

We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth, no matter what the Pew Global Attitudes project says in their polling. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. Our deficits will remain unparalleled for years to come. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions — that time has surely passed sounds like what will continue to happen for the near future.

Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking blaming the other party for the state of America.

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done.

The state of our economy calls for action: bold and swift. And we will act not only to create new jobs a half-hearted stimulus but to lay a new foundation for growth do next to nothing on solving America’s housing crisis.

We will harness the sun with ill-conceived government subsidies and the winds and frack the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age cause student loan debt to skyrocket to new highs.

All this we can do. All this we will do.

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions, who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans — and they are right to do so. Their memories are short, for they have forgotten what this country has already done, what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose and necessity to courage correctly inferred that we have reached a new peak in partisanship that will prevent Washington from accomplishing more than one big plan at a time.

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them, that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long, no longer apply. They will be replaced by far loopier, less rational arguments.

The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works, whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified Congress can stomach passing a budget or raising the debt ceiling.

The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on the ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart — not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good the eagerness of others to buy dollar-denominated debt. We will make sure this demand is met.

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals, because it’s pretty obvious that safety will come first.

Our founding fathers faced with perils that we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations.

Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake, except for drones or anything else JSOC dreams up.

And so, to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and we are ready to lead from behind with logistical support once more.

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with the sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. We will pivot away from these old allies as fast as humanly possible.

They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please — again, except for drones. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use without bothering to consult Congress. Our security emanates from the justness of our cause; the force of our example; the tempering qualities of humility and restraint, and the sheer awesomeness of SEAL Team Six.

We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort hysteria, even greater cooperation unilateral action and understanding rejection of anodyne United Nations treaties between nations. We’ll begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people and forge a hard-earned peace in leave Afghanistan no matter what by 2014.

With old friends and former foes, we’ll work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat make modest progress on nuclear arms reductions and nuclear safety over inexplicable and ill-informed Republican objections and roll back disagree with China about the specter of a warming planet.

We will not apologize for our way of life even though I suspect I’ll be accused of doing that very thing four years from now, nor will we waver in its defense.

And for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that, "Our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken. You cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you." Just to reiterate: I. Have. Drones.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect and lots and lots and lots of drones.

To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict or blame their society’s ills on the West, know that your people will judge you on how many drones we fire in your general direction what you can build, not what you destroy.

To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will prevaricate a fair amount about whether we like the devil we know better than the protesters we don’t, especially if you are housing a major U.S. naval base extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to make repeated, vague, and empty promises to complete the Doha Development round and then let it die an ignoble death work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds.

And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say you are so taking the lead in your own security theaters we can no longer afford indifference to the suffering outside our borders, nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it….

Our challenges may be new built up from decades of misbegotten fiscal and monetary policies, the instruments with which we meet them may be new inspire loathing and revulsion in the American people, but those values upon which our success depends, honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old.

These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history.

What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility rebalancing and leading from behind — a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character than giving our all to a difficult task non-congressionally authorized kinetic military actions….

America, in the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words; with hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come; let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to acknowledge expertise in areas in which we are ignorant and relied on murky online sources of information as all of our elite institutions revealed scandals, lies, and cover-ups galore let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it a hotter planet, more long-term unemployment, and even more dysfunctional political discourse safely to future generations.

Thank you. God bless you.

And God bless the United States of America.

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and the author of Theories of International Politics and Zombies. His latest book is The Toddler in Chief. Twitter: @dandrezner

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