Ken Khachigian, a White House speechwriter whose credits include President Ronald Reagan's 1981 inaugural address, praised Obama's "presence and voice and persona and character" on "an imposing occasion."

He said it was unfortunate that Obama took a number of veiled swipes at former President George W. Bush, whose departure by helicopter shortly after the end of the inaugural ceremony was cheered by Obama partisans.

Another thing that jumped out, Khachigian said, was the pointed omission of battles from the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan when Obama alluded to sacrifices made by Americans during the Revolutionary and Civil wars, World War II and Vietnam.

Don Baer, a Clinton White House speechwriter, called the address "smart and practical" but added, "I didn't think it was his greatest speech."

He praised Obama's uplifting references to Washington and Valley Forge but also said portions seemed more like a State of the Union speech.

"There was a little more enumeration of his agenda in very concrete terms, instead of inspirational rhetoric throughout," he said.

With his reputation for eloquent oratory, Obama was challenged, even by his 10-year-old daughter, to approach or exceed the lyrical mastery of predecessors like Lincoln. Instead, he chose to set the stage for an ambitious first-year agenda.

With repeated references to an economy in crisis, he sought to frame an argument for persuading Congress to approve an expensive set of initiatives that are likely to go beyond an initial stimulus package.

As he did during his campaign, he called for a new kind of politics and an end to "childish things," like today's "petty" and "worn-out" partisanship.

But Baer, a Democrat, said Obama was creating a straw man when he cast opponents of his plans as cynics and pessimists "who question the scale of our ambitions" and "have forgotten what this country has already done."

By doing that, Obama might have been signaling the hard-nosed brand of politics that he intends to practice.

It is no coincidence that almost all of his speech could have been delivered by Bush - other than, of course, the jabs at old politics, restoring science "to its rightful place" and rejecting the "false choice" between "our safety and our ideals."

The cool customer who appeared on the sun-splashed inaugural platform wants to be seen as a pragmatic centrist, not a doctrinaire liberal. He'd like Americans to believe his somber view of the nation's problems and have confidence in his ability to lead them out of those troubles - if only Congress will go along.

In other words, he wants to be a president who wins.


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The location of the podium was misstated in an earlier version of this article. It was located on the Capitol's West Front. The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.