Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Speech : a) Fine. Much better than Bill Clinton's unmemorable inaugurals; b) Short. Or at least seemed short,** relative to what he could have gotten away with. Made three or four non-obvious points ("hard choices," "patchwork," foreign policy realism, service) and ended it. A Johnny Cash song; c) Creeping SOTUism : Clinton learned that while pundits want grand themes, voters like laundry lists of policy specifics. Now the lists even make an appearance on January 20th--e.g.,"raise health care's quality and lower its cost." Aren't Inaugural Addresses likely to be more powerful when they are pitched entirely at a higher level? d) As in, for example, what I thought was Obama's best paragraph, at least when I heard it:
For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus - and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.
Now that I'm actually reading it, as opposed to hearing it, the One-Worldiness of the last sentence seems more salient, and potentially controversial--not simply because of the implications for American "sovereignty," but also because it leaves undefined the terms on which this "common humanity" is revealed and expressed. The outgoing President Bush's wildly ambitious second inaugural ("ending tyranny in the world") made it clear whose terms they were --our terms, "liberty" and "self-government." Is Obama's ambition less "hegemonic," as the left would put it--or only less well-defined (which is not the same thing as 'nuanced')? That question was only partly answered by ... e) Best image (because it's trying to convey a potentially uninspiring concept, namely a fairly brutal foreign policy realism) :
To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.
f) "Programs will end." We'll see! g) You got the impression that the much-touted "service" portion of the speech was less prominent than anchors like Tom Brokaw would have wanted. That's a sign it was a serious speech, no? "Service" is the ultimate Neutral Story Line--a seemingly substantive idea you can push without seeming partisan (and losing potential customers/viewers/readers/advertisers). Who could be against service? (Not me.) ... Update: h) I suppose "remaking America" is a wee bit grandiose. But it's such a cliched grandiosity it's been drained of meaning. Standing alone, it hints at some deep flaw in the country that demands a makeover. But the context suggests Obama means only responding to the current "crisis" (a "new foundation for growth," etc.)--something like "rebuild" or "renew," not "refashion." The phrase is also followed by reassuring talk of a "return" to "values" that are "old." Yes, I'm making excuses! But they don't seem very upset by it over at The Corner (though Jonah Goldberg finds a few other annoyances ). ...
**--As Peter Robinson would predict , I was shocked to learn that Clinton's first Inaugural address was only 14 minutes long. Seemed like forever! ... 10:05 A.M.
Pre-Oath: Feinstein's little speech seems somehow inappropriate. Why does she get to try to set the tone and talk about "necessary" change? As if that's her role on this day, as opposed to the new President's--as if the audience needs that stage directions read to them. It doesn't help that her words are banal. ... 8:52 A.M.
Conservatives I've met in D.C. so far have been near-ebullient , not downcast or bitter. Why? a) They know how unhappy they'd be now if McCain had won; b) Obama has not fulfilled their worst fears, or even second-to-worst fears; c) now they can be an honest, straight-up opposition. .... 8:37 A.M.