With the nation's 55th inaugural address less than two weeks away, one Augustana College professor presented a brief history of the speech and offered his take on what the president's message may be.|
Stephen Klien, associate professor of communication studies, spoke at the Rock Island Public Library on Wednesday to offer his vision of how the inaugural address has shaped the American identity since the time of George Washington's 1789 speech.
The inaugural speech has become regarded as a moment of "eloquence," and a chance for each president to engage the nation following an election, Dr. Klien said. While its impact is sometimes underestimated, Dr. Klien said that the historic speech has been instrumental in influencing public opinion as well as policy.
He cited examples from inaugural addresses by former presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan to show how certain themes have been used repeatedly to convey powerful messages that transcend partisanship, he said.
While the message of each speech varies with the speaker, the inaugural speech is generally used to accomplish four things, Dr. Klien said. The speech is an opportunity for the president to acknowledge the inauguration as a new beginning, unify the nation, establish the administration's philosophy and secure a timeless moment in American history.
He demonstrated those themes by playing a series of video clips from speeches by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Barack Obama during his first inaugural address and other former presidents.
Dr. Klien expects the president to follow the same format during his upcoming speech, yet stray from his long-held mantra of "change."
Instead, he anticipates the president will bear the message of "staying the course" and encourage cooperation between both parties.
Still, Dr. Klien does not discount the president's skills as a public speaker and sees a possibility of him "recapturing" some political momentum should he present a "compelling enough repackaging" of his message from his 2009 address, he said
Regardless of the message, the professor expects the president once again to channel some of the nation's greatest orators by evoking powerful imagery emphasizing "heroic moments" and a "mythic U.S. history."
While each inaugural address allows the president to redefine what it means to be an American, "the values never change," Dr. Klien said.
President Obama is scheduled to deliver his inaugural address on Monday, Jan. 21.
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