Mr. President, Give This Speech
What Slate readers think Obama should say in his inaugural address.
See all of Slate's inauguration coverage.
Two weeks ago, Slate and MixedInk asked readers to collaborate in creating Barack Obama's inaugural address: writing, editing, and rating versions of the speech they'd like to see him give on Tuesday. More than 450 people participated, creating 384 speeches—most of them original but more than 100 "remixed" with words from other contributors, including the previous 43 presidents. (For more on how the process worked, see here and here.) The 1,042-word speech below, lightly edited for spelling and grammar, is the collaboration between two Slate readers known as Honu and Nick. It also borrows from Woodrow Wilson's and Dwight Eisenhower's inaugural adresses, as well as a speech Obama himself gave last March. It was the contest's top-rated speech.
My fellow Americans,
Over two centuries ago, a general from Virginia was the first to take the oath I have been fortunate to repeat here today, swearing allegiance to this newborn Union.
Nearly a century later, a lawyer from Illinois swore this same oath, and then he, too, had to fight. This time, the battle was to preserve the Union, and then to perfect it by recognizing as citizens the many who had been excluded solely because of the color of their skin. A governor from New York swore this oath, and called for confidence in that Union against the perils of fear during a time of unparalleled economic crisis. A former Navy veteran from Massachusetts took this oath, and then challenged each American to ask what he or she might do for this nation.
In each generation, leaders have stepped forward and Americans have stepped up to make our union ever more perfect. Men and women have fought and worked and died to narrow the gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of our times.
The realities of today are, indeed, hard. Millions of Americans are either out of work or underemployed. Many more are uncertain whether the job they hold today will be there tomorrow. A vast number of children are still not receiving the world's best education—not because we cannot provide it, but because they cannot afford it. And Americans of all ages are afraid to go to the hospital because of rising premiums and shrinking incomes.
But American has prevailed over much worse. We have prevailed over Depression and fascism. We have prevailed over enemies abroad and bigotry at home. And as we step up today, together, united one people, indivisible, we will prevail again.
Together, we can do anything.
If we are to pursue happiness, we must also strive to protect the happiness of others. If we are to pursue learning, we must also strive to educate. If we are to love others, we must also have the courage to protect those who love us.
Future generations of Americans will look back at this moment of crisis and opportunity and they will judge us—but not by our words. They will measure us—but not by the promises we make. For language has the power to move us to action, but it is never a substitute for it.
Our children's children will ask only this: What did they do back then? Did they rise to the challenges providence had set before them? Did they unite as one people, with a common destiny? Did they set aside the old partisan rancor in order to protect our great nation, to strengthen democracy and human rights at home and abroad and to safeguard the blessings of the natural world for all time? Did they live up to the great promise cradled in that name: America? What will these future generations say?
They will say, "Yes, they did."