Thoughts on President Obama’s Inaugural Speech


       When President Obama said “The time has come to put away childish things,” I couldn’t help but recall healthcare reformer Don Berwick, sounding discouraged last winter, as he said “Maybe this country just isn’t mature enough for health care reform.”


         Berwick, who is the president of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, was referring to the fact that at times, it seems that everyone wants healthcare for all—but no one wants to pay for it. And few want to hear about the trade-offs: that the young, healthy and wealthy will have to help pay for the poor, the old and the sick; that we will have to give up our unreasonable demand  for every test, treatment or drug that we think we want—or have heard of — even if there is no medical evidence that it works.  Most of all, we have to give up the unreasonable expectation that somehow, we can beat death—that if someone does die it’s because she ate too much, or the doctor made a mistake, or the HMO refused to give her that last miracle treatment.  We have come to think of death as an error.


        Turning to the economy, Obama suggested that most of us don’t yet realize what lies ahead: “we are in the midst of a crisis that is not well understood.”  He hints at the need for sacrifice: “it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours.”


        He also reminded us that the economy was weakened, not only by the greed of a few men, but by a “collective failure to make hard choices.”


       In his words, I heard an echo of JFK’s “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”


       JFK’s speech was more original, and had a stronger cadence:


       “So let us begin anew—remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof . . . .



  “Let both sides . . . Let both sides . . . Let both sides . . .


         “All this will not be finished in the first 100 days. Nor will it be finished in the first 1,000 days, nor in the life of this Administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.”


       But the call for sacrifice, with an eye to “the common good,” was there in Barack Obama’s speech, along with the honest  recognition that the path head will be both long and difficult ..


       And while JFK had Robert Frost, President Obama had the truly wonderful Reverend Lowery who rapped , celebrating a day

     “When brown can stick around . . .

     “When yellow can be mellow . . .

      “When the red man can be the head man . . .

     “And, when the white can…do right, I think”

     This was followed by a call-out that seemed to reach out to the broad audience of Americans that Obama had embraced: “Christians and Muslims and Jews and Hindus and Non-Believers.”

        It’s been a long time since I have heard a politician acknowledge non-believers.  I found myself saying “Amen.”



6 thoughts on “Thoughts on President Obama’s Inaugural Speech

  1. I thought the speech was very good. Not as “soaring” as others but realistically so.
    Yes, we as a young nation need to grow up.We have alot to learn from more mature nations
    Also I appreciated Obama including atheists,while which I am not one, is a growing segment of our diverse national culture.
    I did note on health care he referred to costs
    Dr. Rick Lippin

  2. Rick–
    Thanks for your comment.
    Perhaps I should make it clear: I’m not an atheist, nor do I have anything object to people being religous. (Some of my closest friends are very religious)
    But I think that the original idea–that we keep church and state separate–was a very good one.
    And I think that accepting people of all faiths–including no faith–is an important part of tolerance in a democracy.

  3. I think the incentives are backwards in healthcare right now. I hope that we can move from a disease management system to a more preventive one. It’s unfortunate that Obama and Daschle aren’t giving more priority to preventive/wellness medicine that is cheap in the short run and has a high potential to reduce our overall healthcare costs. Obesity reduction, exercise promotion (especially in schools/children), tobacco use cessation, and proper nutrition are areas I’d like to see get more air time.

  4. Maggie, I agree with your commentary about Obama’s speech. It really wasn’t a speech but an affirmation of who this country is (or should be); what we face (together hopefully) and what we can achieve if we come together.
    Some media have commented that they expected more. More? This is an enormously difficult time in this nation. Obama was honest not pretentious or making promises. I pray for him to succeed; for all of us to succeed.

  5. Greg and Nancy B–
    Thanks for your comments.
    Greg, I agree that we need more of an emphasis on public health. I suspect Obama may be doing some of this with his economic stimulus projects. He repeated has mentioned that our public schools need repair: ideally, this would mean gyms (and gym teachers), safe attractive playgrounds with good equipment and extremination of the mice,
    cockroaches , mold, etc. that make the air the students and teachers breathe toxic. (In some schools there is a very high rate of miscarriages among teachers.)
    I’m also hopeful that as part of a program to create “medical homes” the government will be investing in after-hours community clinics that are open 7 days a week, 18 hours a day, well staffed with doctors and nurses.
    These community clinics could keep out of the ER–where care is so much more expensive–and give them a place to go when they can’t get an appt. with a primary care provider. Moreover, if these clinics operate as medical homes, they will establish and long-term relationship with families–and be able to provide counseling, free somking cessation clinics and nicotine patches, etc.
    Nancy B–
    I could’t agree more.
    Obama faces an enormous task. I respect the fact that he didn’t make false promises or sugar-coat what lies ahead. At the same time, he made it clear that he is determined to face the challange. But the Bush administration dug a very deep hole; it will take years.
    Still, Obama, is very intelligent, confident,
    young and determined. I don’t think he will let others push him into doing
    something impetuous.