Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Obama Eschews Soaring Oratory for Serious Address
It was though he was talking to us, not from the podium at all, but somehow as though already hard at work, looking up from his desk behind a sheaf of papers and a stack of trouble, interrupting the immense task to give America its marching orders; to say "We're in this together. Don't expect miracles. Life has changed. Get used to it." His exact words were simultaneously daunting and thrilling with the sheer weight of their significance: "The time has come to remake America. Nothing could be more distant from the empty sunshine of Reagan's "morning in America" platitude that inaugurated the chuckle-headed race for loot that has now tumbled over a cliff.
The second hearkens back to America's brutal racist history:
the most startling phrase in the whole speech was when Obama spoke of tasting "the bitter swill" of slavery, civil war and segregation, as though it rose from his gut now and again in filthy reflux.
Finally Schama finished this brilliant piece of writing with the following:
When Obama conjured up Washington in Washington it was not some token history lecture he was giving. It was though the tough, taciturn, clipped general had spoken to him and told him to ease off on the rhetorical honey and give his people instead the nourishment of patriotic fortitude. That he did. And that's why, even if the connoisseurs of verbal fancy demur, the people on the subway were right to feel comforted and inspired. The person they had heard was not, after all, a wordsmith. He is, they know, at long last and in our dire straits, a leader.
Naomi Klein provides the second extract in her perceptive piece:
The great leaders in the US weren't the cheerleaders who promised morning in America. They were the ones that forced us to look in the mirror. Since Reagan there has been this tradition, which has become a cliche, of promising morning in America, this fake optimism, we're the best, the city on the hill. In fact the great American task is self-scrutiny. Abraham Lincoln gave speeches about the civil war in which he said, in essence, "We've brought this on ourselves by enslaving Americans." Obama's speech was a diagnosis: "We have to take steps to rebuild our nation."
Amen to that.