Study Guide

A More Perfect Union Compare and Contrast

By Barack Obama

  • Letter from Birmingham Jail

    In his address, Barack Obama mentioned Dr. King…probably because both men had the same idea when it came to racial unity in the United States: equality is long overdue. If it were a library book, the late fees would be ridiculous.

    Especially when you consider that we still aren't there yet.

    In his "Letter from Birmingham Jail," Dr. King defended his belief in nonviolent protests to secure equality for all people. He wasn't afraid of the consequences of his actions—in fact, he believed breaking laws designed to further discrimination was an appropriate step, one that had to be taken in order to make any real change. And the time to do it is now because there will never be a "right time" or an "easy time" to literally challenge the status quo. We've all waited long enough.

    Both Dr. King and Barack Obama talked about the average Joe and Josephine's responsibility to fix the problem, and they also said that these average people must be united in their efforts. The shift in thinking—which is what both speakers were advocating for—won't be painless, and it won't be easy.

    But we have to find a way to whistle while we work and leave Grumpy at home—it's the only way to solve the problem.

  • George W. Bush Second Inaugural Address

    In 2004, when President Bush was reelected for a second term as president, things had drastically changed. We were a post-9/11 democracy, and many of our resources were tied up in conflicts overseas. Those things affected the nature of his presidency, and it changed the national focus.

    In his address, President Bush focused on the importance of promoting democracy overseas, in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, in efforts to neutralize threats to America's national security. He said we needed to be a champion for human rights around the world because our country was founded on the belief that all people are created equal. (Source)

    Of course, he was right. We've said that a bunch of times—we wanted a perfect union, and President Bush believed we should bring those policies into other countries. However, he didn't mention a whole lot about the state of equality on the home front, which was still a very real (and very messy) part of life for millions of people.

    The overall message of this second inaugural address was focused on freedom and liberty, but primarily in oppressed countries overseas. Some people said that President Bush prioritized our involvement in other nations over our commitment to American values within our borders. Obama, in his address, believed the opposite. We can't offer our help to oppressed populations if we don't make efforts to release our minority groups from similar states.

  • Preamble of the U.S. Constitution

    The Preamble to the U.S. Constitution is old-timey and contains words and phrases like "tranquility" and "ordain to establish." But it's probably the most important part of the entire document.

    The Preamble is to the Constitution what Shmoop summaries are to fusty history textbooks. It details the fundamental purposes of the document, as well as the most important parts: the people of the United States made the Constitution and therefore are protected under it; these same people give the document its power, which gives the country its power; the Constitution is designed to protect the people from a tyrannical government.

    In his "A More Perfect Union" speech, Obama built on these basic principles that define the United States. He said that we the people give power to our government, not the other way around. We're the ones driving this bus, which means we have to choose between listening to Siri when she tells you to turn left into the woods or trust that we're on the right path, no matter what the GPS says.

    Obama used the Preamble to illustrate that we have it backward. Our government doesn't get to decide on a "right time" to talk about race and inequality. We the people choose the time, and the place. But he also said we have to choose to talk about the right things, and that is half the battle.

    Thirsty for more? Check out "Symbols, Motifs, and Rhetorical Devices" for more information on the Constitution.

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