Hope: Obama and Roosevelt


Hope: Obama and Roosevelt

Presidential inauguration speeches are important aspects of American politics. Presidents, after being sworn in are called to deliver before the nation their policy related rhetoric.  It is in line with this American tradition that two presidents, Barack Hussein Obama, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt had outlined their historical inaugural speeches. Both of these speeches took place in a context of a deep crisis which has engendered a deep fear in regard to the promises of the future. In these times of despairs and uncertainties, Both Barack Hussein Obama and Franklin Delano Roosevelt have built on the theme of hope to bring the nation together, restore the American confidence and revitalize the spirit of the Americans with a promise that there are better days ahead.    

            Hope is a recurrent theme in Obama's rhetoric. It has surfaced in many occasions in Obama's campaign and in his inaugural speech. Hope has various meanings depending on who uses it. So before expanding on it, it is necessary to question Obama himself. What meaning does he give to the concept of hope? "Hope is that thing inside of us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that there is something greater inside of us.” According to Obama, hope is not static, not just a mere expectation of a positive outcome; it is dynamic in its nature in the fact that it carries a force that is embedded in the heart of ordinary people, and when organized, these people can achieve, beyond any expectation the impossible. Being a black man raised by a single mother without any wealth, the odds were not in Obama's favor to become the president of this great nation. Thus, his political ascendance made him a living testimony of that hope. Inasmuch, he stated in his inaugural speech that "this is a source of our confidence – the knowledge that God call on us to shape an uncertain destiny…and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath." The evocation of his achievement despite the challenges was aimed to instill hope in the American people that this nation will endure. Would Franklin Delano Roosevelt agree with Obama, if he were alive today?

            The answer is probably yes but the urge to help, the readiness to act were a driving force in President Franklin Roosevelt's life. He was gifted with the spirit for not giving up on himself, even when struck by an illness which left him half paralyzed for the rest of his life. In the midst of his crippling polio, he strived to stir hope in the heart of physically challenged children, knowing that there were slight possibilities for them to regain their normal health. Roosevelt wanted to be president and he became one. His notion of hope can be easily reconciled with high optimism and an immediate call for action. Thus inaction and passivity were de facto proscribed in his demeanor.  

        Obama took office in the midst of a financial crisis and a war. People are faced with uncertainties with the fear of losing their jobs, their houses, and sustaining themselves in the depth of a high inflation. This is a compelling factor for Obama to reassure the American people and boost their confidence in their ability to overcome these adversities. He proceeded in his inaugural speech by acknowledging the harsh truth, the magnitude of the crisis: "That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war…Our economy is badly weakened…Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the way we use energy strengthens our adversaries and threatens our planet." Despite the magnitude of the crisis, he injected a high dose of confidence in the American people's hearts. He called on their patience to endure because of the severity and depth of the crisis, before ensuring them that "they will be met." The level of confidence is high. It is expressed with a tone of certainty and unshaken conviction to strengthened hope.  
            By looking at the context in which Roosevelt came to power, one can easily noticed that the similarities were striking.  It was in a midst of an unprecedented economic turmoil that Roosevelt came to power: the country facing a deep financial crisis, people losing their homes, the banks closing, farmers facing overproduction and debt, and unemployment soaring like an eagle. Roosevelt, like Obama, acknowledged the crisis: "Values have shrunken to a fantastic level; taxes have risen; our ability to pay has fallen; government of all kinds is faced by serious curtailment of income….farmers finds no markets for their produce; the savings of many years in thousands of families are gone. The issues are serious but "they concern, thank God only material things." Roosevelt understood that he needed to pacify and soothe the spirit of the American people by letting them know that it could have been worse. He spoke with confidence in order to restore hope and help Americans regain faith. "This great nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper." He pursued in his effort of raising hope by saying that "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." A call for overcoming fear is prerequisite for engaging in courageous actions which sometime could be risky. President Roosevelt invited Americans to have courage and embrace uncertainty with confidence and hope as opposed to fear and despair.           

            Obama travelled back in the history of the United States, retraced the hardships that the founders had endured, exalted the greatness of their achievements just to tell America that this too shall come to pass. The use of narrative based on retrospective and flashback is widely exploited in politics to inspire hope. Since the Greek empire, heroic actions extended to the creation of myths have been exalted to galvanize the people of a nation. America is no exception; every so often, American leaders revisit history by carefully selecting episodes in which Americans successfully overcome uncertainties and adversities. Obama used the same technique to refresh American memory that they are not travelling on an unknown road. Obama referred implicitly to George Washington: "The path has been taken before."Let it be told to the future world…that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive…that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet it."

            Flashback was recalled in Roosevelt's inaugural speech to restore hope. It was resumed in the following statements: "In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory." It is aimed to justify the importance of mobilization of the masses behind their leaders in times of adversity. Roosevelt understood that for him to undertake bold political measures he needed faith from the American people but most importantly, he needed support. Hope is embedded in a tight and sincere complicity between leadership and popular support.

            The theme of hope is reconciled with unity, virtue and action. Obama called on the great spirit of the American people to put aside they differences and join as one to overcome the threat. Unity is indispensable but it has to be combined with virtue. The traditional values, "hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism" should be embraced once again. Once armed with hope and these virtues, Americans can embark on the road of action based on a new vision (universal healthcare, renewable energy, educational reforms) and the rebuilding of the infrastructure (roads, bridges, electric grids and digital lines)
            Roosevelt, like Obama, understood that hope alone is a mere empty word. It has to be translated into unity, virtues and action. This trinity is the fundamental base that gives hope its full meaning. The country needed to be restored not on the old principles of the neoclassic system: laissez-faire, non-intervention which led to greed and unethical actions; but on regulation and order. Roosevelt proceeded in his speech by stating that "The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than monetary profit." "Restoration call, however, not for changes in ethics alone. This Nation asks for action, action now." Through action hope has to be kept alive. The horizon of possibilities widen with action and power. The urgency of action derives from the nature of the emergency. Roosevelt treated the issues as serious as if the country was in a period of war. The rationale behind the call for broad support and unity is embedded in Roosevelt's strong will to expand his executive power, if required to enact his political plan.       


            Hope plays an instrumental role in nation-building. It helps dissipate the overwhelming fear which inhabits people when faced with uncertainty, and induces courage and determination to overcome adversities. Both Roosevelt and Obama, gifted with fine communication skills, had used hope as a tool to energize and uplift the American people in their inaugural speeches. Both speeches inspired hope. The question is will Obama, like Roosevelt, be successful in reviving the economy and lead America to prosperity once again?      



Badara Diakhate

Political activist
773 931 7754
[email protected]


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Jeudi 11 Juillet, 2013

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