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Excerpts: Bob Kaiser Analyzes Obama Speech

VIDEO | Obama Sworn-In as 44th President

Washington Post associate editor Robert G. Kaiser was online Monday, Jan. 20 at 1 p.m. ET to take your questions and offer his analysis President Obama's swearing-in ceremony and inaugural speech. Some excerpts of the discussion follow.

Philadelphia, Pa.: What happened with the oath? In the end, did Obama articulate the proper words as per the Constitution? I looked up the oath after the fact, but now am confused as to the words actually spoken.

Robert G. Kaiser: I'm sure we can check this out, and I will see what my colleagues have come up with in the next few minutes. My sense was that Chief Justice Roberts just blew it--screwed up the timing that must have been rehearsed in advance. Obama seemed to realize that this was the case, grinned indulgently, and once corrected Roberts. Interesting moment. Won't do Roberts' reputation any good.

Helena, Mont.: The visuals are astounding -- that many people at the inauguration. I have been awed by size of his crowds throughout the campaign and have just decided that the American people have wanted to be united and Obama has tapped into that. Don't know if it's because he talks so clearly or if it is the ideas he expresses, but, man, these happy crowds who are willing to endure long hours just waiting are something I will remember about this election and inauguration.

Robert G. Kaiser: I agree. I went down to the Mall this morning to feel the atmosphere before the speech--got there about 9:45 when there were already hundreds of thousands of people, all sharing in an extraordinary atmosphere of good feelings. Then I walked back to The Post against the tide of humanity still arriving or heading toward the Mall. I've been at many huge events on that piece of real estate over the years, but this seemed to dwarf all of them.

Arlington, Va.: Did anyone pick up on the mistake on presidential history in the beginning of the speech. He said "Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath." However, there have only been 43 people who have served in the office. Grover Cleveland was president in two non-consecutive terms (22 and 24). So, Obama is the 44th president, but only the 43rd person.

Robert G. Kaiser: Love our readers! Thanks. You are right.

London: What do you think is most memorable phrase from Obama's address?

Robert G. Kaiser: I was struck by this passage:

"Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends -- honest and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism -- these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths."

With these words Obama tried to establish himself as an old-fashioned patriot in the mainstream of American history. I expect we will see him do this again and again. I'm intrigued by the possibility that it is also the truth.

Washington, D.C.: What did you think of the poet? I thought the raw quality of the poem was a real strength and I hope the Post will put the text up soon as I'd like to read it and reflect on it some more.

Robert G. Kaiser: I too would like to read it again. I thought she had a nifty idea. It isn't easy to take in such a poem at first hearing, is it? I expect The Post to print the text; I also expect to be able to read it on the website.

Shanghai, China: Hey, I'm a Chinese student and I, too, watched Mr. Obama's speech (even thought it's midnight here). I'm deeply impressed by his speech but isn't it a little bit too grim for this celebratory moment?

Robert G. Kaiser: Well, its celebratory, but also grim here. I thought the tone was appropriate.

Alexandria, Va.: One of my favorite parts of the speech was Obama's clearsightedness in terms of our use of technology to move forward: "We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do."

In a sense, his it was his use of technology -- the paradoxical use of cyberspace -- to touch people at the grass roots level that served the sounding the call to the people to rise in the way of Paul Revere's riding from town to town door to door and calling patriots to arm.

Robert G. Kaiser: Another good passage. And another shot at Bush, restoring science "to its rightful place." Our grandchildren are going to be particularly struck by the anti-science maneuvers of the previous administration, I think.

Radford, Va.: the use of George Washington's quote from Valley Forge was a strong point for me, the wintry weather at the Mall I think will make it's inclusion that much more memorable over time, especially to those in attendance.

Robert G. Kaiser: Thank you. It was chilly, but when I was on the Mall this morning people seemed to be handling it well. The fact that the sun was out helped a lot.

By Christopher Dean Hopkins  |  January 20, 2009; 3:34 PM ET  | Category:  Answers
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