News Analysis: What President Obama Didn’t Say

More than once in his inaugural address President Barack Obama celebrated America’s diversity and the nation’s immigrant heritage. “We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth,” he said near the end of the speech. At another point the president talked about those, “who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom. For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.”

The president also referred to his own heritage, mentioning the “small village” in Africa where his father was born. But Mr. Obama’s speech did not contain the words “immigrant” or “immigration.” He did not say what he intends to do about the nation’s immigration system. In fact, he did not even acknowledge that in the view of many Americans, both on the left and the right, the U.S. immigration system has failed.

An inaugural address is not typically a laundry list of problems and the president’s proposals to fix them. That’s what State of the Union addresses are for. But it is worth noting that in a speech that described in stark and somber language a whole host of challenges facing the nation – the economic crisis, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the health care crisis, climate change – President Obama did not devote even one line to the need to reform immigration laws. To find a discussion of his administration’s immigration policies you need to go the White House web site.

Maybe that’s because compared to the collapsing World economy, the troubled immigration system seems less important than it once did. A survey released this week by the Pew Hispanic Center shows that even among Latinos, immigration reform has taken a back seat to fixing the economy. But another reason could be that Mr. Obama understands how dangerous talking about immigration can be, even if you have lots of political capital to spend.

Following Mr. Obama’s speech, the benediction by Reverend Joseph Lowery included these words:

Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get in back; when brown can stick around; when yellow will be mellow; when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right.

The idea of “brown” being allowed to “stick around,” is the closest anyone came during the inauguration ceremony to calling for more compassionate immigration laws.

Hours after he spoke, Rev. Lowery, an icon of the civil rights movement who co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with Martin Luther King Jr., was being attacked on conservative talk radio for making “racist” comments, and putting a stain on a remarkable and profoundly emotional day in our nation’s history.

5 comments

  1. BEVERLY

    I thought that to include the comments on racial color was inappropiate. We are in a time now where no one forces “black to get in back” or brown to go anywhere or no one forces yellow to be anything but mellow and red CAN get ahead MAN!Whites do embrace what is right if theyCHOOSE to. Totally uncalled for.

  2. Brittany

    I personally believe that his point was misunderstood. We do now live in a time where no person is at a disadvantage based solely on the color of their skin. I think his message was aimed at an even greater racial tolerance. Unfortunately there are still people in our country who will judge a person based on race, and that’s just not right. However, was the presidential inauguration the right time and/or place to try to preach this message? Absolutely not. Did no one ask him what he planned to say before-hand??

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