Study Guide

Barack Obama's 2009 Inaugural Address Themes

By Barack Obama, Jon Favreau (speechwriter)

  • Perseverance

    Imagine it's 2008 and you're an adult American worker. Yeah, it's a tough mental exercise, but just bear with us. The stock market has just crashed, and to add insult to injury, the housing market has exploded. You lose your house to foreclosure in the same month that your company lays you off to save money. Your investments have gone down the tubes, putting your retirement plans in jeopardy. You're trying to look for a new job, but no one is hiring. You don't have enough money to make ends meet, much less to buy the things you want.

    Basically, your life is a stone-cold bummer.

    You turn on the TV and flip to the inauguration ceremony for the new president. Wouldn't you want to hear something that encouraged you to keep on trying? If not, go ahead and change the channel—2008 was peak Gossip Girl.

    Anyway, Barack Obama's 2009 inaugural address is built around a comforting message of perseverance: he encourages American citizens to weather the storm with help from themselves and their government.

    Questions About Perseverance

    1. Obama's 2009 inaugural address discusses the nation's decline in confidence. How did America's emotional and mental response to the recession relate to actual events?
    2. Obama references crises and challenges throughout American history. What do these allusions contribute to the overall message?
    3. If you had won the 2008 presidential election, what message would you have sent to people struggling through dire economic times? How would your message differ from or be similar to Obama's?
    4. Should the federal government use tax revenue to help make economic downturns easier on the majority of Americans? Or should American citizens overcome economic challenges on their own?

    Chew on This

    The 2009 inaugural address is about the responsibility of government and citizens. It asks the American people to work with the government to survive a crisis.

    One of Obama's primary objectives in his inaugural address is to comfort and reassure a nation reeling from multiple crises.

  • Community

    We're kind of generalizing here, but historically in American politics, Democrats tend to place more emphasis on community while Republicans tend to place more emphasis on individuality. Both are quintessential American values, and both affect how people think about political issues. Should people navigate the world freely as individuals or sacrifice some of their own interests to help each other out?

    After the financial crisis of 2008 hit, even conservative folks were more open to the idea of using government spending to lift people up. In his inaugural address, Obama advertises community and unity between the political parties as solutions to the economic crisis, and a bunch of other domestic and foreign policy issues, too.

    Questions About Community

    1. Obama campaigned on the idea of changing the culture of Washington to promote unity between Republicans and Democrats. Do you think he achieved this goal?
    2. Which value is more important to you: individualism or community?
    3. People often help each other financially during difficult times. You know, like that time your Aunt Linda bought 75 boxes of Thin Mints so your Girl Scouts troop could go to SeaWorld. Should the federal government provide aid for citizens in need?
    4. What is the definition of a "community"? Could a "community" encompass an entire nation of people, or even the entire world?

    Chew on This

    Obama's inaugural address evokes the idea of unity through diversity, which resonated with many Americans and alienated others.

    By downplaying the importance of the size of government, Obama tries to get the country to think of itself as a unified team, greater than the sum of its separate parts.

  • Faith

    Faith and religion have always played a major role in American politics. And Barack Obama's 2009 inaugural address definitely references both, whether we're talking about religious faith or people's trust and belief in general in themselves, in each other, and in their country.

    As a candidate, Obama often addressed the issue of faith and got up close and personal about his own faith journey in a 2007 speech. And focusing on his own religious beliefs during his campaign seems to have paid off in the election. In fact, compared to his Democratic predecessor in 2004, John Kerry, Obama earned more votes from pretty much every religious group (source). And he also received 75 percent of the "religiously unaffiliated" vote.

    Hence the non-believer shout-out?

    Questions About Faith

    1. Obama's speech plays up faith, but some Republicans critics said it used a lot of vague language. In your opinion, does the speech seem sincere or cliché?
    2. The Constitution calls for the separation of church and state. So why do American politicians often invoke religion in major speeches?
    3. Do you think the president should focus on social issues like religion or focus on issues like the economy and foreign relations?
    4. If you were running for president, what role would faith play in your campaign? How would you communicate about your own faith (or lack thereof) to potential voters?

    Chew on This

    In his 2009 inaugural address, Barack Obama tells Americans to have faith in the country by having faith in themselves.

    Obama's rhetoric from 2007 to 2009 focused more on faith and religion than his Democratic predecessors did. In his own words, "This guy is not the typical secular Democrat."

  • Visions of America

    Obama acknowledges that America was hamstrung by economic problems in 2009. Still, the 2009 inaugural address isn't just about fixing things; it's also about what Obama wants to do after things are fixed. Reforming the health care system, investing in alternative energy, and rebuilding America's infrastructure are some of the issues at the top of his to-do list.

    The speech envisions an America defined by responsibility—both at home and abroad. In this America, the government would work for the citizens, citizens would work hard, and America would be a force for good in the world.

    Sounds good enough to be a mission statement.

    Questions About Visions of America

    1. Do you think Obama's speech focuses more on fixing what's broken or building new things?
    2. Is Barack Obama's vision of America focused more on values and culture or issues and policy?
    3. Does Obama base his vision of America more on past history or future aspirations?
    4. Do you think Obama envisions an America with a big or small federal government? How important is the size of government to his vision?

    Chew on This

    The 2009 inaugural address lays out a vision for a post-Bush America, promising a sharp reversal from the previous administration's policies.

    On foreign policy, Obama envisions America cooperating in harmony with the rest of the world.

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