There has been a lot of brush fire fretting about diversity and representativeness since four of the five boroughs of New York City will be represented on the Supreme Court, composed of six Catholics and three Jews (orthodoxy and religiosity aside). But it is worth mentioning that the President is a Protestant. Niebuhrian themes rooted in original sin and man's imperfectibility and the need for grace underly much of what is said by him.
James Fallows (of Scot Presbyterian extraction) points out the interesting parallels among : Obama, Jimmy Carter at Notre Dame (Fallows had a hand in that), and Dwight Eisenhower's "farewell address". Here they are in chronological order:
During the long lane of the history yet to be written, America knows that this world of ours, ever growing smaller, must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be, instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect. Such a confederation must be one of equals. The weakest must come to the conference table with the same confidence as do we, protected as we are by our moral, economic, and military strength. That table, though scarred by many past frustrations, cannot be abandoned for the certain agony of the battlefield. Disarmament, with mutual honor and confidence, is a continuing imperative. Together we must learn how to compose differences, not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose.Carter (Notre Dame) (1977):
We live in a world that is imperfect and which will always be imperfect--a world that is complex and confused and which will always be complex and confused. I understand fully the limits of moral suasion. We have no illusion that changes will come easily or soon. But I also believe that it is a mistake to undervalue the power of words and of the ideas that words embody. In our own history, that power has ranged from Thomas Paine's "Common Sense" to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream."
Obama at West Point commencement (2010):
[A] fundamental part of our strategy for our security has to be America’s support for those universal rights that formed the creed of our founding. And we will promote these values above all by living them -- through our fidelity to the rule of law and our Constitution, even when it’s hard; even when we’re being attacked; even when we’re in the midst of war.
And we will commit ourselves to forever pursuing a more perfect union. Together with our friends and allies, America will always seek a world that extends these rights so that when an individual is being silenced, we aim to be her voice. Where ideas are suppressed, we provide space for open debate. Where democratic institutions take hold, we add a wind at their back. When humanitarian disaster strikes, we extend a hand. Where human dignity is denied, America opposes poverty and is a source of opportunity. That is who we are. That is what we do.
We do so with no illusions. We understand change doesn’t come quick. We understand that neither America nor any nation can dictate every outcome beyond its borders. We know that a world of mortal men and women will never be rid of oppression or evil. What we can do, what we must do, is work and reach and fight for the world that we seek -- all of us, those in uniform and those who are not.
And in preparing for today, I turned to the world -- to the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes. And reflecting on his Civil War experience, he said, and I quote, “To fight out a war you must believe in something and want something with all your might. So must you do to carry anything else to an end worth reaching.” Holmes went on, “More than that, you must be willing to commit yourself to a course, perhaps a long and hard one, without being able to foresee exactly where you will come out.”