A Big Step Forward, a Few Disappointments

January 20, 2009

I don’t have a transcript in front of me, but I can’t help being a bit dismayed by the number of times President Barack Obama mentioned the deity in the course of his inaugural address—including a concluding one-two punch of “God bless you” and ” God bless the United States of America.” (Apparently God will be kept busy during the Obama Administration.)

But far more important—and as far as I know, a first in inaugural history—is Obama’s deliberate mention of unbelievers at the end of a laundry list of world religions. This is a huge first for our movement, and much to be applauded.

And yet, in a speech otherwise distinguished by its graceful cadences and sweeping rhythms, the phrase “—and unbelievers” seemed an aftrethought, the lone caboose at the end of what had been a train of pairs: “Christians and Jews.” “Hindus and Muslims.” A pause: “—and unbelievers.” Thud! There was even a break in Obama’s recitation, as though the greatest orator of our generation hadn’t quite figured out how to deliver that concluding phrase.

 Ah well, at least it was in there. And I look forward to the inevitable news stories that will come out detailing how it came to be there, and how it came to be perhaps the only touch of infelicitous pacing in a speech that I suspect will go down as one of the great moments in American oratory.