Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Obama's America, better than what Founders imagined

By David Rothkopf, Special to CNN
January 22, 2013 -- Updated 1512 GMT (2312 HKT)
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
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0336 GMT (1136 HKT)
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0221 GMT (1021 HKT)
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1228 GMT (2028 HKT)
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1300 GMT (2100 HKT)
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 2033 GMT (0433 HKT)
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0442 GMT (1242 HKT)
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2043 GMT (0443 HKT)
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0858 GMT (1658 HKT)
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2245 GMT (0645 HKT)
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1700 GMT (0100 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2301 GMT (0701 HKT)
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1335 GMT (2135 HKT)
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 0208 GMT (1008 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1125 GMT (1925 HKT)
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 2004 GMT (0404 HKT)
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1307 GMT (2107 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 2250 GMT (0650 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
October 11, 2014 -- Updated 1543 GMT (2343 HKT)
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT