Mr. President, you have been described as our most literary president since Mr. Lincoln. Your prose inspires and paints the possible. I know that you are preparing for your second inaugural address. I have read that you have excellent speechwriters with whom you partner to craft the messages for the nation. As you decide what you will say to an anxious world-wide audience on Jan. 21, I am praying for you.
You, sir, have the potential to bequeath to posterity an address as beautiful as President Lincoln’s second inaugural address, delivered on March 4, 1865. I wrestle mightily with Lincoln’s legacy as the so-called “Great Emancipator,” but his command of language is indisputable. Lincoln’s second inaugural was essentially public theology. “Fondly do we hope—fervently do we pray—that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away,” he said. “Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondman’s  years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said [3,000] years ago, so still it must be said.”
These were difficult words for a nation torn by the evils of human bondage and civil war. But what if they had not been uttered?
President Kennedy called speechwriter Ted Sorensen his “intellectual blood bank” and found in him a trusted aide who understood his politics and his hopes for the nation. Sorensen helped Kennedy to craft this memorable exhortation for his inaugural address: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”
These words have been credited with calling many into public service. But what if they had not been uttered?
So, Mr. President, yours is a huge rhetorical dilemma. You must speak hard truths, like Mr. Lincoln, while inspiring the citizenry, like Mr. Kennedy. There are some words that I pray you will speak. I know you have legions of people offering you unsolicited advice on your speech. Please allow this preacher to be numbered among them.
Mr. President, poverty in America is a disgrace. And the number of children living in poverty is abhorrent. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 46.2 million Americans live in poverty—15 percent of the population.
May I suggest the following words?
“The number of poor people in America is unacceptable. They struggle to find jobs and to buy food for their families in red states and blue states. Their children look like mine and yours. As president, I will not be satisfied with Sasha and Malia having food to eat while other American children go hungry. Let us resolve to fight poverty with the same determination with which we have fought terror for the last decade!”
Mr. President, education in America is not what it ought to be. Teachers are blamed, instead of encouraged. Those with means send their children to private schools or move to neighborhoods where public schools are indistinguishable from private ones. Many policymakers have essentially abandoned public education, causing many public schools to become ineffective.
May I suggest this, Mr. President?
“American public education has produced many of our greatest citizens, though it is at a crossroads in the 21st century. Will we continue to use methods developed in the agrarian age in the information age? Will we be satisfied with children of means having the best opportunities while other children grasp in vain for a quality education? I propose that we work together to ensure that every public school in every city in every state has sufficient financial resources for America to lead the world again in educating the next generation!”
What is important, Mr. President, is that you speak words that challenge us like Lincoln and inspire us like Kennedy. And when unborn historians cast a critical gaze upon your rhetoric and your work, may it be said that the words of your second inaugural address were beautiful, but the work of your second administration made America a more just nation and the world a more peaceful place.
God bless you, Mr. President.
William H. Lamar IV is pastor of Turner Memorial A.M.E. Church in Hyattsville, Md.