I thought that, after 8 years of education in rhetoric and textual analysis, I might know something about analyzing a written or spoken work. Good to know, however, that I was wrong. Apparently I am the only American out there who doesn’t see anything special in what Obama said today. I excitedly sat down to read the transcript, having listened to selections on NPR in the car. And I failed to see substance. Sorry, but bluntness seems appropriate here. Granted, I realize that this is supposed to be a “rally the people” speech. I have given such things myself. Heavy on rhetoric and light on program. Fine. Tell stories, paint pictures, allude to past moments of American greatness, make us feel together. Obama’s speech did that, and, insofar as it completed that mission, it was fine. Not out-of-this-world, but fine.
Every major newspaper I have read seems to carry articles in which highly educated and experienced politicians and writers speak of the inaugural speech as “unsparing” in its critique of the Bush presidency. Excuse me, but did I miss something? Saying that we’re not doing so well and haven’t done what we need to do to keep above water is not the same thing as saying “It’s all Bush’s fault.” It’s not, for example, Bush’s fault that I carry a credit card and use it, frequently, and with little concern for my savings account. It’s not, in other words, Bush’s fault that the American people in general have been making terrible decisions–on the individual and corporate levels. I’m no huge Bush fan, but I am simply blown away by analysts’ audacity in making strong criticisms of Bush based on what I have to say was a bland speech. If my students tried such a reading, I would give them a C and tell them they had much to learn about making plausible arguments. And, frankly, having been told that I am waaaaay too inclined to over-read anything put in front of me, I’m disinclined to think that I just wasn’t sensitive enough to the nuances to see the embedded criticism. No wonder politicians never say anything; even without saying anything they appear to be open to far-fetched readings.