Assessing the Inaugural Address: Where you sit is where you stand

As Inauguration Day approached, I was given a unique opportunity to enlist some new technology invented by a casual friend of mine. As part of a failed initiative funded by Homeland Security, she was part of a team that developed the Portable Thought-Processor Processor (PTPP). The idea was that as people approached the security check points at airports, they would put a hand on the device and it would let the TSA agents know if the person was thinking about committing some terrorism. The device works really well, but it was never implemented for any number of reasons. There were concerns about privacy raised by the ACLU, the risqué thoughts people were thinking about the next person in line, and, of course, the silly name of the device. Chief among them, however, was the amount of profanity people were spewing in their brains about having to take off their shoes. It was simply too hard on the agents to repeatedly be thought of in such obscene ways. Many of them had never even conceived of the acts of which they were being accused, and most didn’t even own goats.

Not wanting to see this technology go to waste, I asked if I could use a couple of the PTPPs as we watched President Obama’s inaugural address. I invited one of my conservative friends, Caleb, and one of my liberal friends, Autumn, to watch the speech with me. As the President made his remarks, I recorded the thoughts of the viewers. Neither one could see the thoughts of the other and I asked both viewers to say nothing out loud during the speech. Below are the highlights of the speech and what Caleb and Autumn thought about them.

Each time we gather to inaugurate a President we bear witness to the enduring strength of our Constitution. We affirm the promise of our democracy. We recall that what binds this nation together is not the colors of our skin or the tenets of our faith or the origins of our names. What makes us exceptional – what makes us American – is our allegiance to an idea articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Autumn: Equal? Really? Weren’t these guys slave owners?
Caleb: What do you expect a black socialist Muslim to say?

Today we continue a never-ending journey to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time. For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they’ve never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth. The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few or the rule of a mob. They gave to us a republic, a government of, and by, and for the people, entrusting each generation to keep safe our founding creed.

Caleb: There he goes, attacking the privileges of a few…spoken like a true Commie.
Autumn: What’s wrong with the mob? Occupy Wall Street was sweet!

Together, we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play.
Together, we resolved that a great nation must care for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.
Through it all, we have never relinquished our skepticism of central authority, nor have we succumbed to the fiction that all society’s ills can be cured through government alone. Our celebration of initiative and enterprise, our insistence on hard work and personal responsibility, these are constants in our character.

Caleb: No, actually a free market thrives when you keep your socialist hands off it. Fair play is for sissies.
Autumn: Oh, no…here come the cuts!

But we have always understood that when times change, so must we; that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action. For the American people can no more meet the demands of today’s world by acting alone than American soldiers could have met the forces of fascism or communism with muskets and militias. No single person can train all the math and science teachers we’ll need to equip our children for the future, or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores. Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation and one people.

Autumn: That’s what I’m talking about! Disband the militias!
Caleb: What? Is he quoting Karl Marx?

This generation of Americans has been tested by crises that steeled our resolve and proved our resilience. A decade of war is now ending. An economic recovery has begun. America’s possibilities are limitless, for we possess all the qualities that this world without boundaries demands: youth and drive; diversity and openness; an endless capacity for risk and a gift for reinvention. My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment, and we will seize it – so long as we seize it together.

Caleb: Or maybe Lenin.
Autumn: Sounds like something John Kennedy would have said.

For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it. We believe that America’s prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class. We know that America thrives when every person can find independence and pride in their work; when the wages of honest labor liberate families from the brink of hardship. We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else, because she is an American; she is free, and she is equal, not just in the eyes of God but also in our own.

Caleb: Not on MY watch, she doesn’t! Wait til Fox News gets a hold of this!
Autumn: Go, Barack! Go!

We, the people, still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity. We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit. But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future.
We do not believe that in this country freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few. We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us at any time may face a job loss, or a sudden illness, or a home swept away in a terrible storm. The commitments we make to each other through Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security, these things do not sap our initiative, they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great

Autumn: Oh, I bet Boehner and McConnell just cramped up. Why won’t CNN pan over to them?
Caleb: Freeloaders, freeloaders, freeloaders. What’s in it for me?

We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms.

Caleb: If the world is ending in a storm of heat and fire, it’s because we deserve it. Read the darn Bible, or the Koooran, Obama!
Autumn: It’s about time he talked about the environment. He better talk about fracking, big oil, corporate polluters or I’m going to be mad.

We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war. Our brave men and women in uniform, tempered by the flames of battle, are unmatched in skill and courage. Our citizens, seared by the memory of those we have lost, know too well the price that is paid for liberty. The knowledge of their sacrifice will keep us forever vigilant against those who would do us harm. But we are also heirs to those who won the peace and not just the war; who turned sworn enemies into the surest of friends – and we must carry those lessons into this time as well.

Autumn: The troops, always the troops.
Caleb: Whatever happened to Benghazi?

America will remain the anchor of strong alliances in every corner of the globe. And we will renew those institutions that extend our capacity to manage crisis abroad, for no one has a greater stake in a peaceful world than its most powerful nation. We will support democracy from Asia to Africa, from the Americas to the Middle East, because our interests and our conscience compel us to act on behalf of those who long for freedom. And we must be a source of hope to the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the victims of prejudice –- not out of mere charity, but because peace in our time requires the constant advance of those principles that our common creed describes: tolerance and opportunity, human dignity and justice.

Caleb: Here comes that commie crud again. The United Nations is trying to subvert us. Doesn’t he know that?
Autumn: Peace in our time! Yes!

It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began. For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law –- for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote. Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity – – until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country. Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia, to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for and cherished and always safe from harm.

Caleb: Oh give me a break! Gays, Detroit, gun haters, illegals…when is he going to talk about REAL Americans?
Autumn: Detroit sucks.

My fellow Americans, the oath I have sworn before you today, like the one recited by others who serve in this Capitol, was an oath to God and country, not party or faction. And we must faithfully execute that pledge during the duration of our service. But the words I spoke today are not so different from the oath that is taken each time a soldier signs up for duty or an immigrant realizes her dream. My oath is not so different from the pledge we all make to the flag that waves above and that fills our hearts with pride.

Autumn: The Pledge of Allegiance? Geez, Barack, lighten up!
Caleb: Yeah, but which God? Allah or the real one?

Thank you. God bless you, and may He forever bless these United States of America.

Autumn: Yay! Yay! Beautiful speech! I love this guy! Truly!
Caleb: Is it over? When’s he going to tell us how he’s going to do this? More Obama babble.

I turned off the PTPPs and looked into the eyes of my friends. I saw hope and I saw annoyance…pretty much the same thing I saw before I turned them on.

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