Forgive my blindness

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.


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5 Responses to Forgive my blindness

  1. Laura Boll Peifer says:

    i have to agree, erin- i was a little disappointed in the speech as well… seemed a bit vague and wordy- perhaps ‘over the heads’ of some of the general american public

  2. highnegatives says:

    I was gone for most of the day yesterday, so I didn’t get to read reactions until this morning. I used the NYTimes to sort of navigate through the millions of articles written about the speech:

    I guess I didn’t see all of the praises for Bush attacks that you did, but we probably just read different articles. I also taped the inauguration on CSPAN so I wouldn’t have to listen to CNN or MSNBC commentators, so maybe that was part of it. I thought the speech was fine and if I had to pick one line that would probably be the soundbite for the future, it would probably be, “The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works, whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified.”

    Overall, I felt like the history of the day overshadowed pretty much everything — including the speech. Most of the older (and many of the younger) African-Americans standing with us in the crowd were crying from the time he stepped into the motorcade and would have cried even if the speech was awful. It was just that kind of day.

    Just my thoughts 🙂

  3. fustianist says:

    Maybe the thing that made the speech special doesn’t come through in the written version:


  4. highnegatives says:

    I definitely agree that there is something special about Obama’s oratory that isn’t captured in transcripts. It also isn’t by accident that he speaks this way — Obama’s Chicago long-time mentor Abner Mikva suggested that he watch preachers to become a more effective public speaker. Thank you for posting that link — while I know that he’s tried to mimic that style, I’ve never been able to adequately describe it.

    However, I still wouldn’t rank the inaugural address as his best.

  5. Mother of the bride says:

    Ditto Heidi’s remarks above about the specialness of Obama’s oratory. I was unaware of his study of preachers for public speaking – interesting…

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