Study Guide

Barack Obama's 2009 Inaugural Address Main Idea

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  • Main Idea

    Where We Go From Here

    In his 2009 inaugural address, Barack Obama digs into America's problems. And not in your standard "hey dudes, we've got some stuff to deal with" way. He does it with flair.

    Also known as rhetoric.

    Coming into office and facing a horrible economy—not to mention two wars and bad blood between political parties—he says we need to get back to those classic American values like self-reliance and faith. "Getting back to" is important here because Obama is all about calling on America's history to send a simple message: we got this.

    Sort of like a basketball player in the fourth quarter…except the game hasn't even started yet.

    So, the main idea? Look to the future by remembering the past.

    Questions About Main Idea

    1. Barack Obama campaigned on a message of unification. Based on his address, do you think he really wanted to bring the political parties together, or just benefit his own party?
    2. The 2009 inaugural address promises America will get through a difficult time. Do you think Obama places more responsibility on the American people or the federal government?
    3. At the time, many voters found Obama's rhetoric inspirational. Do you think his speaking style makes his actual message more effective? Or is it just a crutch?
    4. What values does Obama appeal to throughout the speech?

    Chew on This

    Barack Obama's 2009 inaugural address looks forward to the future by looking back at American history, creating a historical narrative of progress.

    In the inaugural address, Obama pledges a clean break from the previous administration's complicated promises of political unity.

  • Brief Summary

    The Set-Up

    The inaugural address is as American as an apple pie from McDonald's. Ever since George Washington won the first presidential election, presidents have delivered the traditional address to set the tone for their administration-to-be. After Obama won the 2008 election, he and his speechwriters prepared an address that would, well, address the unfolding national economic crisis.

    With gumption.

    The Text

    Obama starts off his Oscar speech—er, inaugural address—by thanking George W. Bush for serving as president (lip-service alert) and thanking America for electing him. He then describes the state of the country as "gathering clouds" and "raging storms" (3.3). Before Obama, nobody understood just how much Americans love metaphors.

    Throughout the speech, Obama expresses a new vision for the country that goes beyond the old debates about the size of government. In 1996, Bill Clinton declared that "the era of big government is over." But Obama was tired of political parties bickering about size. "The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works" (14.1), he says. Novel idea.

    In order to make his vision stick in the minds of his audience, Obama alludes to the country's past history, including the ideals of the American Revolution and values like the American dream and hard work. The idea is that government should go back to serving ordinary people—a populist Democratic principle.

    Obama also makes a lot of promises about future foreign policy, assuring us that America will be popular abroad. During the Iraq War, America's role on the world stage was highly controversial both at home and in other countries. (Some things never change.)


    We're going to get through this hard time. Trust me, I'm Obama.

  • Questions

    1. Barack Obama was the first African American president. Does he highlight his race in the 2009 inaugural address?
    2. In the 2009 inaugural address, Barack Obama says that America's greatness is earned, not given. What things seem to make America great, according to Obama?
    3. Obama makes references to Christianity, but he also mentions other religions. How would you describe the role of religion in the speech? How important is it, and in what ways?
    4. In January 2009, the economy was the elephant in the room. How would you summarize Obama's message on the economy? Is it the most important part of the speech?
    5. What does Obama have to say about the size of government? How does his message on size compare to other politicians or past presidents?
    6. In the inaugural address, Obama makes a lot of references to various American values, saying that the right values are the way forward. Do you think history unfolds because of people's values? Or are people's values formed based on what happens?

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