Study Guide

Barack Obama's 2009 Inaugural Address Compare and Contrast

By Barack Obama, Jon Favreau (speechwriter)

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  • The Clintons

    In early 2007, lots of people assumed Hillary Clinton was going to be the Democratic nominee for president. With name recognition and experience, she was a safe pick to win. Like the New England Patriots. Or pizza. Then Obama went on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and did a sweet dance.

    With the "swagalicious" young Obama (Michelle's words) now in the running, Clinton had to unleash all her political weapons. And naturally that included her husband, former president Bill Clinton. Bill criticized Obama so much during the 2008 primary campaign that, at times, the media coverage made it seem like both Clintons were running for president as one hybrid super politician: Billary Clinton.

    Kind of like Kimye, but not.

    The Clintons' main criticism of Obama concerned the qualities necessary for presidential leadership. Hillary argued that her many years of experience made her a better pick, compared to Obama's inspiring speeches. She even went so far as to call him "naïve" about American foreign policy (source). Ouch.

    As per usual in these primary fights, Obama gave it right back to Hillary, slamming her for voting in favor of the Iraq War as a senator. Bill Clinton took exception to this because Obama hadn't even been in the room during the vote on Iraq; he was still in the Illinois General Assembly. That's like saying your high school team would have won the state championship…if you hadn't still been playing for the middle-school team. Sick burn.

    Eventually, Obama prevailed in a primary race that was both statistically close and vicious. (Don't worry, ultimately the story has a happy ending with Bill, Hillary, and Obama all becoming besties 4 life. They even vacation together.)

  • Obama's 2013 Inaugural Address

    Obama won a second presidential term in 2012, becoming just the second Democrat since Franklin D. Roosevelt to be elected to back-to-back terms. (The other was Bill Clinton.) The second time around, he couldn't exactly campaign on the same promise of "change" from four years earlier.

    There are a few important differences between Obama 1.0 and Obama 2.0.

    In his 2013 inaugural address, Obama focuses more on social issues, including equal pay for women, immigration, and LGBTQ rights. With the financial crisis in America's rear-view mirror (sorta), the public is now getting a glimpse of the more perfect union Obama wants to create.

    He also tempers his language to be more general on promises. At the beginning of the 2013 address, Obama calls progress and change "a never-ending journey" (source). That's a bit more Zen and a little less ambitious-sounding than guaranteeing that challenges "will be met" (6.3). Facing hostile Republican majorities in the House and Senate, it makes sense for Obama to tone down those promises—or at least to sound like he is.

  • FDR's 1933 Inaugural Address

    Believe it or not, the crisis of 2008 wasn't actually the first time the good, ole U.S. of A. experienced tough times. To write the 2009 inaugural address, Jon Favreau studied past addresses from difficult times in history (source).

    America has been through multiple economic slides, but the most devastating was the Great Depression. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's 1933 inaugural address set the bar for presidents encouraging the nation in lean times.

    When FDR took office during the Depression, the federal government wasn't very involved in regulating the economy or spending money on public projects.

    In his 1933 inaugural address, FDR asks Congress for "broad executive power to wage a war against the emergency." He got what he wished for, creating new government programs like the Works Progress Administration and Social Security.

    Obama's 2009 inaugural address faces down the precedents of the past. Since the Depression, American politics had been a tired debate about the size of government. Instead of making it about big or small government, Obama focuses on the civilian population. The recovery, he says, would rely on everybody's contribution, not just federal spending.

  • 2004 Presidential Campaign

    Early on in the 2009 inaugural address, Obama says "we have chosen hope over fear" (7.1). Why did the other side represent "fear"? You'd have to look back four years to know what Obama was talking about.

    The 2004 election was all about the war on terror, which started after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the Iraq War, which started in 2003.

    Democratic nominee John Kerry advocated pulling back on America's involvement in the Middle East and criticized President Bush's tactics and motives in invading Iraq. Meanwhile, the George W. Bush camp attempted to portray Senator Kerry as inconsistent in his stance on the Iraq War (source). With the threat of terrorism hanging over America's head after 9/11, Republicans warned of the potential for future attacks. And Bush argued that criticisms of America's wars would "send the wrong signal" to American troops and to enemy forces (source).

    Democrats accused Bush of playing on Americans' fears of further terrorism to win the campaign. A famous Bush TV ad focused on Kerry's votes to cut defense spending, all while showing images of some hungry-looking wolves in a forest. And to think, this was four whole years before Twilight hit theaters. Anyway, the message was: if you don't vote Republican, werewolves will devour your vampire flesh the terrorists will gobble you up.

  • The Rise of the Tea Party

    The 2008 election was slated to be an era-defining victory for Democrats. With Bush's presidency in the ground and Democratic majorities in Congress, the talking heads on cable TV started discussing the end of the Republican Party.

    But things didn't quite turn out that way. The conservative backlash against Barack Obama was swift and powerful. It all started with—you guessed it—the economy.

    The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 was Obama's big move on the economy. This was his attempt to fulfill the promises he had made in the 2009 inaugural address to start to steer America out of the storm. The act invested hundreds of billions of dollars in public projects.

    American conservatives generally oppose government spending. Remember all that talk of small versus big government that was so trendy during the Clinton era but so passé by the time Obama's inaugural address rolled around? Conservatives were definitely still very much in the small camp, and preferred to see the market correct itself naturally. After the "stimulus," as the act became known, a grassroots conservative movement calling itself the "Tea Party"—named after the event from the American Revolution— started to make waves across the nation, holding protests against the administration. Tea Party activists considered themselves to be a movement of resistance against government overreach.

    By the time the 2010 congressional elections rolled around, the Tea Party had gained traction throughout the country and was producing candidates for office. They became known as "Tea Party Republicans." These politicians vehemently opposed the Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration's initiative to reform the health care system.

    If you're a big Isaac Newton fan, you might say that even in politics, every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

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