Opinion: An opportunity squandered

The president’s inaugural address, rather than speaking to our better angels, to paraphrase Lincoln, spoke to lesser purposes.

Inklings of the intentions of the president and his party were certainly present during the campaign. He and his colleagues called forth at various times their sense that this is a nation of class, where one segment of the population needs to be pitted against another. The president even carried this a bit further on one occasion as he alluded to the cause of "revenge".

Then came a most extraordinary inaugural address. There was no sense of binding up the wounds from an intense campaign. There was no reference to asking what people could do for their country. This speech was filled with a high degree of confrontation and more than a touch of gloat.

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A country like ours is made up of people who by nature are optimistic. Our people almost always, and sometimes to our detriment, give other people and nations the benefit of the doubt. We are simply a selfless nation, as nations go, and we have done more to turn the course of human experience towards a free and prosperous world than any other nation in history.  

Why then would we want our leader to deliver words of disdain and acrimony during a speech that is uniquely reserved as a moment in which, every four years, we expect to receive words of renewal and reassurance? It certainly was not uplifting and seemed to miss the point of inaugural speech

Maybe the president was just having a bad day. But it can be presumed that he and his people put considerable time and thought into the tenor and tone they wished to deliver at the start of his second term.

If the goal was to set forth a new, liberal direction for the nation, a direction that requires significantly larger and more intrusive actions by those who govern, this could certainly have been done with language of concern and offers of participation.

He is the president. He was elected. He has the right to define where he wishes to lead us, and should do so.

But this speech was not set in those terms. It was structured and built with what seemed to be a purpose of setting the nation against itself.

Harshness has unfortunately become the way of the day. Certainly many Republicans have shown this in recent forays.  There is never a good time for this, really.  But to use the unique and historical setting of the inaugural address in this manner is a mistake.  It demeans the exceptional success of the president and what he stands for, which is at its core the exceptional nature of our nation.

Large government or small government, we are and always will be a country that brims like no other with opportunity for our people, all our people. It would have been much better if the president had spoken to our specialness and how we can improve on it rather than essentially calling out  those he thinks oppose his purposes.  

This will hopefully be a speech that is quickly forgotten in a nation that is always ready to move on to a better day.

Judd Gregg is a former governor and three-term senator from New Hampshire who served as chairman and ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and as ranking member of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Foreign Operations. He also is an international adviser to Goldman Sachs.