Thursday, January 22, 2009

Blogging the Inauguration: The Address


Obama speaks. It begins far lighter on rhetoric than I expected. Starts with the now common refrain, things are going to be tough. Ugh. I know, but I could recite the section in my sleep. I wonder early on if this is going to sound more like a State of the Union, or something Clintonian. I hope not.

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Obama begins talking about hope, and gains his footing. "We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history." Amen to that, brother.

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A passage about the cynics who doubt that big things can be done sounds like a bit of a straw man to me. Not that they're not out there, but just doesn't seem to capture the moment right.

But the transition leads to some classic Obama redefinitions of oppositions -- it's not whether government is big or small but whether it works; it's not whether the market is good or bad but whether it helps people. "The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our Gross National Product, but on the reach of our prosperity."

And last: "We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals." Oh, snap!

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Because it's so cold, everyone has their gloves on. So instead of clapping, when people are happy you hear lots of very muffled thump-thump-thumps. Feels like I'm in a Monty Python sketch.

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Obama's best section, and best received, addresses the world in its various forms, guided by the principle that our authority derives from "the justness of our cause, the force of our example."

Makes the remarkable comment that the corrupt and oppressive nations of the world are "on the wrong side of history" but says "we will extend our hand if you are willing to unclench your fist." Also manages to challenge terrorists without making it sound like we're gonna have a showdown tonight at the OK Corral. This is indeed a new era.

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Last section. Obama seems to get more animated than usual. Feels like he's trying to rouse us from a deep sleep. Manages to describe the present as akin to "a deep winter", "icy currents" and a coming "storm", and yet energize the audience. How did he do that?

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All in all, not his best rhetorical speech, but many significant passages that well capture many Americans' vision of our nation. In some ways as much a speech for the world as for our country.

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Jon Stewart had a very funny comparison that night of Obama's speech with the language of Bush.