For what it’s worth, I’ve come around on the Obama speech today. My first reaction was “okay but not up to his standard.” Since then, listening to commentary around the web and among the talking heads, and maybe because my contrarian nature dictates that I go in a direction other than the developing consensus, I am beginning to think it was brilliant.
No, not in the sense of soaring rhetoric (which is what I was looking for going in) but in achieving the purpose for which it was intended.
Obama did not go for applause lines—indeed, he seemed to deliberately avoid them—and I think that was part of a strategy to not present himself as a savior, as the messiah, but to try and get the message across that we are all in this together. He took a similar approach to his devastating dissection of the Bush years and policies which ran as a thread throughout, using pointed phrases and clear imagery, sending his message without making any effort to make it a “message.”
He removed himself from the equation in many ways and soberly, pointedly told the American people that the road ahead isn’t going to be easy, all the while reminding them that they are the key to the nation’s future and will determine success or failure. White commentators who have been all atwitter about his stress on responsibility, seeing it as a dictum to the inner city, might want to listen a bit more closely.
Shortly after the election, when one of my more conservative friends asked me about some early appointments that seemed likely to disappoint the liberal base (and they did) and suggested that these show that Obama is more conservative than anyone imagines, I responded that my take was that he was setting up an administration face of capable, competent, non-frightening people who would carry out his aims and his policies and that my friend was seeing things in terms of the old politics rather than the new.
We are seeing a politician like none other we had experienced come to power, a man with a steadfast calm, an inquiring mind and a vision he is telling us about in broad terms, which the talking heads tend to see as rhetoric, and which he setting up a way to implement, which does not yet really cross their minds.
He can speak like a preacher and lift our spirits; today he chose to speak like a leader and began the process of inspiring our hearts.