This second inauguration day offers a second moment for President Obama to address the nation without the press of a crises or under the specific obligation of the U.S. Constitution. President Washington, for his part, had no time for speeches. He said at his second inaugural: "When the occasion proper for it shall arrive, I shall endeavor to express the high sense I entertain of this distinguished honor, and of the confidence which has been reposed in me by the people of United America."
President Lincoln chose to speak to the ages: "Fondly do we hope fervently do we pray that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away." With malice toward none, with charity for all…"
This will be no election speech, today. We know that. President Obama is not running for anything at this point. What he says today, in theory, could be a completely candid notion of what he believes in and wants for the nation over the next four year.
The beginning of the second term is also the second big historical data point for understanding this president who has chosen Martin Luther King, Jr. Day for his repeat inauguration.
We meet Dr. King through the archives of Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reporter Eleanor Fisher, who interviewed Dr. King back in 1961.
Eleanor Fisher: "Were you aware during this period what the negro faced in the South?"
Martin Luther King, Jr.: "Oh yes, I became aware of these problems first when I was about five-years-old…as a result of the legacy of slavery and then segregation."
In this interview, Fisher attempts to explore the political pragmatisism of John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert as they tried to make a deal with Dr. King on civil rights back in the 1960 campaign. Were the Kennedys interested in radical change or just votes?
Eleanor Fisher: "Do you feel that the concern expressed by Mr. Kennedy and his brother, now attorney general, was a real concern or do you think it was politically motivated in an attempt to reach the negro voter?"
Martin Luther King, Jr.: "Well, I can't say. It's always difficult to delve into the realm of human motive…that doesn't mean that it isn't morally right."
There you can hear the dogged determination of Dr. King to move ahead, his willingness to forge alliances even if he thought they might not be completely sincere. He was a preacher who firmly believed history and God were all on his side.
By 1967, when Eleanor Fisher interviewed him again, Dr. King was deep in the national battles over laws passed under the Johnson Administration — the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, social welfare programs — the whole Johnson Great Society program was under attack.
So what would Dr. King think of today, seeing Barack Obama as president, yet seeing America either in or recovering from wars overseas, and using robot drone strikes and covert operations. What would he make of nearly 50 million people living in poverty today?