What to expect in Obama's second inaugural address

Sipa USA/AP

The election was fought over lots of big issues -- tax reform, immigration, how to wind down our wars -- before the Newtown shooting added gun violence to the list. Here's a preview of what President Obama will say about them at his second inauguration.

Expect Obama to do what he says.

As Time's Michael Grunwald points out, Obama's first inaugural speech was a disappointment to reporters who expected him to dwell on being the first black president. Instead, he talked about economic collapse and described the same path he had already laid out in his 2008 campaign that he'd follow to fix it. And the he basically did all of that. Grunwald writes:

So what does Obama do for an encore? Congress already passed most of his 2008 agenda. And let’s face it: He didn’t have much of a 2012 agenda. “Forward” was a nice slogan, but all it meant was “Don’t let Romney and the GOP undo everything I did and restore the Bush era.”

The major policy work of Obama's second term will be implementing the big policies of his first, Grunwald says. Obama will likely offer fewer policy details than four years ago, leaving that for the State of the Union. CNN reports Obama has been working on the speech since mid-December with speechwriter John Favreau, and a major theme will be the responsibilities of citizenship.

Expect him not to drone on too long.

Obama's view of these speeches is "the shorter the better" CNN reports. His last inaugural address was 18 minutes.

Expect a better performance. 

Obama is better when he's working with a script than when he's speaking off the cuff, and he's better when he's playing off the energy of a crowd. Obama doesn't yet have a signature line, The Washington Post's Joel Achenbach explains, like FDR's "We have nothing to fear but fear itself." He might reach for that. Of course, that line and JFK's "Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country" are often held up as the goal for any inaugural speech-giver or speech-writer.

Expect the stuff about domestic policy to focus on finding "common ground."

Obama adviser David Plouffe said on ABC's This Week Sunday that Obama would talk about "how our founding principles and values can still guide us in today's modern and changing world" and "our political system does not require us to resolve all of our differences or settle all of our disputes, but it is absolutely imperative that our leaders try and seek common ground when it can and should exist."

Obama will offer no new policy ideas, the Associated Press reports. And while his speech won't be partisan, aides tell the AP Obama "will stand up for his values and vision that were supported by the majority of voters in the November election."

Expect a more subtle foreign policy. 

Obama won a Nobel prize based on his ambition to end the war in Iraq, reduce nuclear weapons, and take on climate change, The New York Times's David E. Sanger reports. He managed an exit from Iraq, but he wasn't able to get much done on the latter two items. Sanger reports Obama "has indicated that he plans to return to his original agenda, though he has hinted it may be in a different, less overtly ambitious way." Obama now has had the "bitter experience" of struggling to get an arms bill through the Senate and having little leverage on the Middle East. So expect less soaring rhetoric about America changing the world.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
X CLOSE Don't show again

Like us on Facebook