President Barack Obama was sworn in Monday for a second term. CNN contributors and analysts offered these assessments of the 44th's president's inauguration:
Julian Zelizer: A call to the obligations of citizenship
The speech connected the greatest generation with our generation. In a ringing defense of liberalism and the obligations of citizenship, Obama called on the nation to complete the unfinished struggles of the 1950s and 1960s -- making rights real, giving more Americans the tools they need to work their way into the middle class and caring for those who can't care for themselves.
He didn't present this as an argument from a Democratic president, but rather as a leader who believes the nation is exceptional. He continued to express his desire to search for the middle way, but based on a strong defense of the political tradition that shapes him. It was powerful oration for a contentious moment in national politics.
Julian Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author of "Jimmy Carter" and of "Governing America."
Donna Brazile: Speech defined 'American faith'
Obama's second inaugural address was a deeply moving and patriotic speech.
It was one of the most effective usages of the founding documents' principles as a supporting narrative -- drawing us from the past to the present to the future. It combined two of Obama's greatest strengths: his reason (constitutional analysis, desire to teach) with his poetic skills as a writer and a leader.
He touched on some of the practical challenges facing America. And in addressing these, he reaffirmed the approach he outlined during the election.
But the speech itself was about a different kind of affirmation. It echoed sentiments and subjects that have been a motif of his presidency, indeed his career. Obama defined what may be called an American faith.
In referring to the Declaration of Independence's guiding principle, he said, "For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they have never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by his people here on Earth."
Each balanced phrase and each oscillation between where we have been and where we must go elaborated this theme: The American faith is the faith in America. "We are true to our creed," he said, when even a little girl born in poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else, because she is an American, she is free, and she is equal, not just in the eyes of God but also in our own."
I will long ponder this, that "preserving our planet, commanded to our care by God ... will lend meaning to the creed our fathers."
This may not be remembered as the most stirring or oratorical inaugural speech. But it was a president sharing with the nation his values most personal and vision most spiritual.
Donna Brazile, a CNN contributor and a Democratic strategist, is vice chairwoman for voter registration and participation at the Democratic National Committee. She is a nationally syndicated columnist, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and author of "Cooking With Grease." She was manager for the Gore-Lieberman presidential campaign in 2000.
Alan Brinkley: Richard Blanco a new Walt Whitman?
Inaugurations are usually pretty dull, and second-term inaugurations are usually even worse. Obama's speech was much better than I thought it would be -- not one for the ages, but good for our time. The crowds, perhaps surprisingly, were enormous -- almost as large as 2008.
Obama spoke clearly about his own views without openly criticizing his opponents. As he did in 2008, he continued to call for compromise, although he must have known that little compromise in Congress is waiting. And so he continued with his list of his hopes -- few of which will likely succeed.
No one has reached the level of Lincoln's second inauguration speech. Obama's speech is not likely to be remembered in the way Lincoln's was. But it was better than most inaugural speeches, and better than his 2008 speech. To me, though, the best part of the inauguration was the little known poet Richard Blanco, who sounded like a new Walt Whitman.
Alan Brinkley is the Allan Nevins professor of history at Columbia University.
John Avlon: Reclaiming 'American exceptionalism' from conservatives
Obama used his second inaugural address to recast contemporary political debates in the larger sweep of American history, implicitly making the case that the current Democratic Party's agenda is in the mainstream of American history, part of a constant process of forming a more perfect union -- with individual freedom heightened best when balanced with community security.
It was an audacious speech to the extent that Obama sought to reclaim politicized concepts like American exceptionalism from their conservative contexts, making the case that the combination of diversity and opportunity makes the American Dream possible for each new generation.
The president did not shy away from commenting on contemporary policy debates, saying that "the commitments we make to each other -- through Medicare and Medicaid, and Social Security -- these things do not sap of initiative, they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great." Somewhere in La Jolla, California, Mitt Romney's ears were burning.
Although the ambitions of the speech were audacious, the scope of the speech was sprawling and dotted with policy references more suited to a State of the Union address. It was not tightly framed or focused on a single concept, nor was there a single clear phrase that summed up the speech, at least at first listen.