THE FIRST 100 DAYS: Obama's Missed Opportunity as Orator-in-Chief

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Published January 27, 2009

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By Margaret HooverRepublican Strategist/FOX News Contributor

One week after his historic swearing-in, I remain amazed and disappointed that Barack Obama missed the obvious opportunity to unite America with his inaugural oration.

After the delivery of President Obama's inaugural address, I expected Washington, D.C. to feel like the Iowa caucuses on steroids. I braced myself for a charge of citizens inspired by oration, hot off the bully pulpit of our new president.

[caption id="attachment_5952" align="aligncenter" width="212" caption="The 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama, delivers his inaugural address Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2009 at the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/Jim Bourg, Pool)"][/caption]

But walking among the stream of visitors leaving the swearing-in, the tone was sedate. Snippets of conversation -- from families, children and adults -- lent themselves to calm understanding of the importance of the moment they had just witnessed.

The major misstep of President Obama's inaugural address was his failure to acknowledge the reason why nearly two million citizens of all ages and races made the pilgrimage to the nation's capital -- pride in our country's ability to progress towards a more perfect union.
But there was no Obama fever as I experienced in Iowa or New Hampshire after Obama's electrifying speeches. Why didn't his words excite everyone as they had before? Something BIG had just happened, yet nothing BIG was said to acknowledge the historical moment.

A colleague at my network caught the 11 p.m. train from New York to Washington, D.C. on Monday night before the inauguration. With standing room only, travelers sang "We Shall Overcome" most of the ride. Upon arriving in the nation's capitol at 3:00 a.m., my colleague (a Democrat) was astounded to discover hundreds of people sleeping in rows on the floor of Union Station. If you were in Washington, you couldn't miss the 5,000+ vendors who flooded street corners with Obama iconography, the new president's visage on posters with Nelson Mandela, Bob Marley, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcom X.

The major misstep of President Obama's inaugural address was his failure to acknowledge the reason why nearly two million citizens of all ages and races made the pilgrimage to the nation's capital -- pride in our country's ability to progress towards a more perfect union.

Obama could have spoken to the symbolism--from the slave market in Lafayette Square to a black man in the White House fifty yards away. He could have acknowledged that this achievement had little to do with him, but to the trailblazers who came before him and that this moment represented one more step toward Dr. King's dream. Just under two million people weren't there to celebrate the end of the Bush era. They were there to witness and rejoice at our nation's racial progress.

Instead there was an emotional discordance between the crowd's feelings and the speaker's words. For all this oratory, he failed to tap the vein of pride that swelled in the crowd for the moment or tug at our heart strings. A nod to that moment would have galvanized the emotion of the millions watching in person. Obama shied from this in Denver as well with another speech that fell flat, without touching the symbolic overlap of his acceptance of the Democratic nomination with the 45thanniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech.

Some of us knew that our country was great enough to elect a black president despite our sordid racial past. What was clear from the enormous outpouring in Washington in inauguration week was that too many of us needed to see it to believe it. I wish our orator-in-chief had explicitly honored the symbolism of the moment. But there was no crystallizing phrase or repeatable soundbite that will trademark this first inaugural address which felt discordant with its moment.

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