Skip to main content

Obama finally meets Machiavelli

By Gordon Stewart, Special to CNN
January 22, 2013 -- Updated 1957 GMT (0357 HKT)
inauguration quotes
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Gordon Stewart says Obama's second inaugural speech made up for the mistakes of his first
  • Stewart: Obama spoke as a leader who is prepared to make choices and fight for them
  • He says unlike the disappointing first inaugural speech, there was no blame this time
  • Stewart: Both Obama's supporters and opponents have a clearer idea of what he will do next

Editor's note: Gordon Stewart is former deputy chief speechwriter to President Jimmy Carter and the moderator of TheNextDeal.org, an online project to revise the U.S. social contract for the 21st century.

(CNN) -- It's a good bet that millions of Americans on Monday greeted President Barack Obama's magnificent second inaugural address not just with applause and cheers of approval but with loud sighs of relief.

Gone were his first inaugural speech's bizarre equal division of blame for the wreckage of real lives between the "greed of some" and the so-called "collective failure" of the rest of us. Instead, Obama rang out his commitment to equality for all, not the "shrinking few and lucky" who call the rest of us simply "takers."

Nor did our president chide us to put away ''childish things" by seeming to describe deep differences over "perpetual war," climate change, immigration, equal rights, voting rights, rights to decent wages for honest labor and rights to "basic measures of security and dignity" as "petty grievances."

Gordon Stewart
Gordon Stewart

This time around, Obama offered us not song and dance morals from an old Depression musical comedy to "pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and start all over again," but solid, specific support for the serious New Deal pillars of Social Security and Medicare.

Opinion: Obama's ringing defense of liberalism

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.



Almost for the first time as president, he dared to utter the word "poverty" in a major address, and declared ''we must be a source of hope to the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the victims of prejudice."

These moments and more earned his speech the warm response and respect it deserves. Now it will receive the careful analysis it cannot escape. This will reveal even more profound differences between Obama's second inaugural speech and his historic appearance on the steps of the U.S. Capitol as the president of color few believed they would see elected in their lifetimes.

1. His first inaugural address was a puzzling disappointment after the passionate convictions he expressed so powerfully in both his primary and general election campaigns. Some suggested that his finest moment was Election Night in Chicago's Grant Park. No one who followed his campaign, including his opponents, could have been surprised by his second inaugural speech.

Obama's inaugural address: Then and now
2009: Obama inauguration makes history
Was President Obama's address partisan?
Exclusive sketch of Michelle Obama dress

2. Monday's words were those of a leader who has chosen to fight for the change he believes in over flailing attempts to placate that only produced astounding charges that he was unwilling to compromise when in fact he had given so much in doomed efforts to do just that.

3. His repeated calls for "We the People" to work together were not-so-subtle warnings of who would be responsible if the U.S. government is unable to do so. No blame-splitting this time.

4. Even Obama's delivery and demeanor conveyed conviction, not the sense that a press aide might soon emerge from Caesar's tent beside the Rubicon to explain that his thinking is still "evolving."

Opinion: How Obama made opportunity real in America

In this second inaugural address, Obama the Candidate became Obama the President without a trace of the bait and switch to which too many citizens have become so accustomed that in their cynicism they cease to vote at all. He spoke as a leader who has stopped splitting differences and is prepared to make choices and fight for them -- together as We the People if possible, alone as Obama the President if not.

Opinion: Obama's America, better than what Founders imagined

In fact, Monday's speech felt as if after four frustrating years of trying to appease his opponents, Barack Obama had finally met Machiavelli one night in the Lincoln Bedroom and learned that when faced with two equally powerful opposing forces, a president must choose, or both will attack him. He sounded like a leader who knows now that the difference between making a choice and making love is that decisions don't feel better the longer you can draw them out.

As Obama goes from celebration to celebration, his supporters and his opponents have a much clearer idea of what he will do tomorrow, and for the next 1,000-plus days he is president.

This time when he tells banks and insurance companies that "a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play," they will do well to believe him. Because even with all the cash he collected to fill the coffers of his campaign, Monday's speech makes it clear he will not let it line the coffin of his presidency.

It betrays no security measures to mention that the Secret Service chooses oddly accurate code words for the presidents it protects.

After Obama's first inauguration, that could have been "dancer." After Monday's address, it could legitimately consider ''leader." If the president is able to act in accordance with his second inaugural address, it's not impossible now to imagine "Lincoln." He wasn't afraid to fight when the nation would not stay together.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Gordon Stewart.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1617 GMT (0017 HKT)
Today's politicians should follow Ronald Reagan's advice and invest in science, research and development, Fareed Zakaria says.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Artificial intelligence does not need to be malevolent to be catastrophically dangerous to humanity, writes Greg Scoblete.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1505 GMT (2305 HKT)
Historian Douglas Brinkley says a showing of Sony's film in Austin helped keep the city weird -- and spotlighted the heroes who stood up for free expression
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Tanya Odom that by calling only on women at his press conference, the President made clear why women and people of color should be more visible in boardrooms and conferences
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
When oil spills happen, researchers are faced with the difficult choice of whether to use chemical dispersants, authors say
December 25, 2014 -- Updated 0633 GMT (1433 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0335 GMT (1135 HKT)
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2115 GMT (0515 HKT)
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1811 GMT (0211 HKT)
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1808 GMT (0208 HKT)
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
ADVERTISEMENT