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
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 1424 GMT (2224 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2152 GMT (0552 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2121 GMT (0521 HKT)
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 1158 GMT (1958 HKT)
It's been ten days since Michael Brown was killed, and his family is still waiting for information from investigators about what happened to their young man, writes Mel Robbins
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1354 GMT (2154 HKT)
Sally Kohn says the Ferguson protests reflect broader patterns of racial injustice across the country, from chronic police violence and abuse against black men to the persistent economic and social exclusion of communities of color.
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1242 GMT (2042 HKT)
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1310 GMT (2110 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the left mistrusts Clinton but there are ways she can win support from liberals in 2016
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1359 GMT (2159 HKT)
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
August 16, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says the way cops, media, politicians and protesters have behaved since Michael Brown's shooting shows not all the right people have learned the right lessons
August 17, 2014 -- Updated 1523 GMT (2323 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says the American military advisers in Iraq are sizing up what needs to be done and recommending accordingly
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1941 GMT (0341 HKT)
Marc Lamont Hill says the President's comments on the Michael Brown shooting ignored its racial implications
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 2146 GMT (0546 HKT)
Joe Stork says the catastrophe in northern Iraq continues, even though many religious minorities have fled to safety: ISIS forces -- intent on purging them -- still control the area where they lived
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 2226 GMT (0626 HKT)
Tim Lynch says Pentagon's policy of doling out military weapons to police forces is misguided and dangerous.
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1315 GMT (2115 HKT)
S.E. Cupp says millennials want big ideas and rapid change; she talks to one of their number who serves in Congress
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 2357 GMT (0757 HKT)
Dorothy Brown says the power structure is dominated by whites in a town that is 68% black. Elected officials who sat by silently as chaos erupted after Michael Brown shooting should be voted out of office
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Bill Schmitz says the media and other adults should never explain suicide as a means of escaping pain. Robin Williams' tragic death offers a chance to educate about prevention
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1505 GMT (2305 HKT)
Nafees Syed says President Obama should renew the quest to eliminate bias in the criminal justice system
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 2024 GMT (0424 HKT)
Eric Liu says what's unfolded in the Missouri town is a shocking violation of American constitutional rights and should be a wake-up call to all
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 1922 GMT (0322 HKT)
Neal Gabler says Lauren Bacall, a talent in her own right, will be defined by her marriage with the great actor Humphrey Bogart
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1056 GMT (1856 HKT)
Bob Butler says the arrest of two journalists covering the Ferguson story is alarming
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 2035 GMT (0435 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says we all need to work together to make sure the tension between police and African-Americans doesn't result in more tragedies
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 2308 GMT (0708 HKT)
Michael Friedman says depression does not discriminate, cannot be bargained with and shows no mercy.
August 12, 2014 -- Updated 1525 GMT (2325 HKT)
LZ Granderson says we must not surrender to apathy about the injustice faced by African Americans
ADVERTISEMENT