Though Barack Obama had a little verbal stumble during his oath of office, his inaugural address was evidence again of how good the president gets when he's delivering a speech he's prepared versus when he speaks off the cuff or during a debate (that's when the "uhs" tend to come in). Wisely, he adhered pretty closely to the notes he'd prepared, and was able to convey strong emotion in his short speech, which was inspirational and growth-of-America affirming at the same time that it reminded us that we're all together in this, and hinted at what the future might be like if we can't find a way to get along.
His uniform was a familiar one: Dark suit, crisp white shirt, a periwinkle tie and that omnipresent flag pin we saw throughout the debates. Also familiar was this oratory style, "at times like a pastor, at times soaring," said one NBC News commentator. And then there were the words in the speech itself. He said repeatedly, "We, the people," those key and memorable initial words of the preamble to the U.S. Constitution. He said it a total of five times, with more we's (nearly 100 of them, by my count) peppered throughout.
The "We, the peoples" were these:
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, the people, still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity.
We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity.
We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war.
We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths –- that all of us are created equal –- is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.
Linguist and language columnist Ben Zimmer, who followed today's swearing in and address and Obama's first inauguration as well, told me that Obama's 2009 speech included just one use of "We the People," at the end of that speech's second paragraph: "...We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forebears, and true to our founding documents." In today's address, however, Obama "relied on that rhetorical device as a repetitive touchstone, tying the 'here and now' of his speech to the legacy of the founding fathers," Zimmer said, explaining that the phrase has a dual purpose: elevating the presidential rhetoric "by connecting it to the opening words of the Constitution, recognized by all, and framing his call to collective action by emphasizing the inclusive solidarity of that powerful first-person plural pronoun."