File - This Jan. 20, 1961, file photo shows President John F. Kennedy delivering his inaugural address after taking the oath of office, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo)
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WASHINGTON: Quick quiz: Recall a phrase, any phrase, from either inaugural speech of one of America's most accomplished political orators, President Barack Obama.Fact is, inaugural speeches are usually not the finest hours in speechmaking, with some towering exceptions brought to us by Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt and one or two others.When an inaugural speech does grab hold of the public imagination, history tends to remember it differently than the way it was received at the time.Jefferson opened and closed his first inaugural speech by describing his shortcomings and apologizing in advance for all the mistakes he was going to make.You can hear echoes of that in Obama's memorable 2004 speech to Democrats, when he talked of red states and blue states joined together as one United States, before he ran for the presidency.BOOKENDSCIVIL WARLincoln's first inaugural speech was a long and lawyerly account of how Southern grievances might be resolved without war.Lincoln's second inaugural speech, perhaps the greatest of any, again spoke of reconciliation, this time with the Confederacy all but crushed and his assassination weeks away.
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