Speech puts a new frame on Obama's call to serve





In his Inaugural Address, President Barack Obama quoted not Abraham Lincoln or the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whom he has often referenced in his speeches, but George Washington, speaking to his bedraggled troops during the darkest days of the Revolutionary War, when, as Obama put it, "The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood."

The "father of our nation," the new president said, "ordered these words be read to the people: 'Let it be told to the future world that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive, that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet it.' "

The references to Washington aim not just to inspire a country grappling with an economy in free fall and two ongoing wars but to situate America's problems in a historical context. Obama often does this in his speeches — recalling Lincoln's efforts to fashion a new and improved nation out of the ashes of the Civil War, or the efforts of today's Joshua generation to build upon the achievements of the Moses generation who fought the civil rights battles of the 1960s. Here, Obama employed an even wider historical lens, asking Americans to remember the daunting, seemingly impossible challenges faced by the founding fathers in winning independence from the mighty British Empire.

Talking of the continuum of history enables Obama to remind us of the progress that has been made toward perfecting this nation, and this Enlightenment faith in progress, in turn, offers the hope that today's challenges, too, can be met and conquered: or, as he put it, "All this we can do. All this we will do."



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