Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 21, 2009

WITH ONE DAY'S WORTH OF HINDSIGHT.... I was talking to someone last night about Barack Obama's inaugural address, with my friend criticizing it while I defended it. He challenged me to recite, from memory, one sentence -- a full sentence -- from the speech, just eight hours after it had been delivered. I couldn't, which he saw as evidence of a missed opportunity.

With the discussion still on my mind, I went back and watched the speech again today, and was even more impressed with the address the second time. James Fallows suggests this might be a common response.

Several of Barack Obama's big rhetorical performances have been recognized as hits from the minute he stepped off the stage. His 2004 Democratic convention speech is one example. His Philadelphia speech on race, which quelled the Rev. Wright controversy last spring, is another.

In many other cases, especially late in the campaign, the red-hots among his supporters thought he had "underperformed" or been "just so-so" immediately after an event, only to see the days-later and weeks-later reaction to the performance turn much more positive. The clearest example was his first debate with John McCain, where supporters thought he had missed chances to go in for the kill -- but over time it was clear that he had established his steady, gravitas-worthy persona.

I think his inaugural speech will be in this second category. Now that I have a chance to look at some blog-world commentary, I see that some is underwhelmed, as after the first debate. I think that the speech was in fact very well-pitched to this moment in history and the messages Obama wants and needs to send. That is, both artful and useful.

To be sure, I can think of various speeches from the campaign that I enjoyed more from a partisan/ideological perspective, but watching it again today, I was reminded about the qualitative differences between, say, a speech at the Democratic convention and a presidential inaugural address. The speech after Obama's victory in the Iowa caucus, or the "Yes We Can" speech in South Carolina, were uplifting campaign oratory that made me want to vote for the man, but yesterday wasn't about that.

Kevin Drum's take rings true for me: "If I had to describe the speech in a word, I'd call it 'workmanlike,' and maybe that's exactly what Obama wanted it to be. After all, his steady theme, both yesterday and for the past couple of months, has been that his administration will be one that buckles down and gets to work from Day 1. Memorable would have just gotten in the way."

Steve Benen 4:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (55)

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I can recite many sentences from the speech.
It set out a strong criticism of the departing administration, and a new course for Obama's and for the nation.

It was a hammer against anvil speech, warning of the consequences for politicians and others who try to obstruct the will of the people, who are now coming to Washington D.C. to demand what should be theirs, against the special interests who have until now always been the first to benefit, against the interests of the people.

Posted by: SteinL on January 21, 2009 at 4:19 PM | PERMALINK

I thought the speech was excellent the first time around, and have been frustrated by the shallow criticisms to which it has been subjected, all of which focus exclusively on rhetorical virtuosity over substance. Obama succinctly laid out the most serious challenges faced by our nation, the major areas in which the Bush administration most spectacularly failed, and sketched the policies by which he intends to begin to correct the damage, all while calling for an end to petty partisanship and greater personal committment to the common good. In light of all that, whether his presentation was adequately packed with quotable sound bites is entirely irrelevant.

Posted by: JRD on January 21, 2009 at 4:22 PM | PERMALINK

If you go back and read the speech, you'll see that he lays out the basic tenets of his administration, simply and eloquently. It's more difficult to get it when listening, I find. No sacrificing our way of life out of fear. He is willing to talk to and be a friend to all. Domestically, he doesn't want to fall into traps of ideology and games--if it's good for people and works, it's in; if not, it's out. Yes we can, but it will take awhile. Everyone was waiting for the "Ask not" moment but the guy is just naturally inspiring and I thought it was good not to have a sound bite to overshadow the message.

Posted by: Frak on January 21, 2009 at 4:22 PM | PERMALINK

I totally agree. I watched it again with my wife and daughter, and loved it much more.

People don't realize how fucked this country is. Or how hard it is going to be to start setting things straight. Yesterday, Obama showed me he gets it, that he isn't naive, that he isn't depending on pretty words. I was never more inspired by him than yesterday.

Posted by: Gore/Feingold '16 on January 21, 2009 at 4:23 PM | PERMALINK

He challenged me to recite, from memory, one sentence -- a full sentence

I wouldn't have been able to recite one, but my answer would have been "the part about extending a hand to those willing to unclench a fist." I thought that was a chilling and remarkably visual image.

Posted by: Danp on January 21, 2009 at 4:24 PM | PERMALINK

The speech set forth a moral and ethical vision for America that is a radical departure from the recent past, and that is consistent with Obama's campaign promises. It was great.

By the way, the "Yes We Can" speech was in New Hampshire, not South Carolina. One of my favorite moments of the campaign.

Posted by: Rachel Q on January 21, 2009 at 4:25 PM | PERMALINK

Last night at dinner I asked me 8-year-old kid what was his favorite part of the day. He said he had two: watching George Bush get into the helicopter to get out of town, and the line, "It's time to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and get back to the task of remaking America." (Forgive me if I don't quote it EXACTLY down to the preposition.) If an 8-year-old can nail that, surely the critics can chill out a bit?

(These were his favorite parts of the day until I let him have ice cream, at which point he would have said, "Obama who?")

Posted by: Chocolate Thunder on January 21, 2009 at 4:26 PM | PERMALINK

It makes no logical sense to judge something based on the memory of your friends.

If I did that, I would have to judge lunch yesterday a failure because most of my friends probably don't remember what they ate.

Posted by: doubtful on January 21, 2009 at 4:28 PM | PERMALINK

Workmanlike is good. All Bush cared about was the campaign. And even though he won many a campaign and PR battle in his presidency, he won very few lasting policy victories that helped us.

Barack's in box is overflowing.....

Posted by: Flamethrower on January 21, 2009 at 4:36 PM | PERMALINK

"Workmanlike"? I couldn't disagree more. I thought it was an eloquent and passionate statement of belief and idealism. Most obviously the point about the false choice between security and our ideals, and the notion that we're all in this together, both to establish justice and liberty, and to promote the general welfare. I'm a partisan, but I think anyone who doesn't appreciate the ringing denunciations of the last eight years, and the necessity of those denunciations, doesn't understand that this country and the Constitution are indistinguishable from one another.

As for your friend's "complete sentence" test, no offense, but it's truly stupid. "We have nothing to fear but fear itself" is not a complete sentence; it was a clause in a much longer sentence. Ditto ask not what your country, etc. "With malice towards none, and charity towards all", "the last full measure of devotion", "the military-industrial complex". All fragments. Call your friend and ask him to recite the "complete sentence" from which the fragments "I have a dream... judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character" come from. Better yet, tell him you have a wager to make based on his standards, and get yourself a good steak dinner out of his bogus, nit-picking smugness.

Posted by: Jim on January 21, 2009 at 4:38 PM | PERMALINK

After watching the speech in real time, I was underwhelmed. I felt deprived of applause lines, and it seemed a little flat, although I couldn't put a finger on why, since I recognized that substantively, I had agreed with nearly every word. I thought maybe after hearing so many of his stemwinders (the Iowa 2007 Jefferson-Jackson dinner speech foremost among them) my grading curve was unfair.

Then, last night, I read the text.

It was a really great speech. It was not soaring and ambitious, but nor was it remotely tame. It told the public hard truths. It made a harsh and clean break from W even as W sat in the front row. It appealed to "our better angels." It confronted difficult problems without fear or doubt of our ultimate triumph. It almost in 20 minutes changed the entire way the US relates to the rest of the world. It was politically savvy in calling out his critics. It established a great sense of where we are in the arc of history. It was thankful, humble, powerful, and most of all it did what the best speeches of the best leaders has always done: it asked something of us instead of just pandering. It was a great "roll up your sleeves, lets go make it better" speech.

On second review, I'm not sure what more he could have done.

Posted by: zeitgeist on January 21, 2009 at 4:38 PM | PERMALINK

Just a note. The "Yes We Can" speech was after Barack Obama's loss in New Hampshire. Until that moment I had been an Edwards supporter, because I felt that John Edwards had layed out the most real policies, and had take the most chances to that date. The "Yes We Can" speech showed me something incredible. That even in loss, then Senator Obama had a vision that was unwavering, that he could give such a speech when he had faced a set-back helped define who he was in my mind.

I too have now watched the inaugural speech a second time, and feel even more confident that it will be considered a really great speech. As he concluded yesterday, I sat there knowing that the initial reactions would be mixed, but as time passes, it will increase, as actions are reflected in his words.

If you look back at George W. Bush's first speech, there was the same chance that a good speech would improve with age and action. However what we soon learned was while George could (somewhat) mouth the words, his actions could not reflect well on them.

This is why yesterday's speech in my mind will only get better. I believe yes we can.

Posted by: Richard Rolsen on January 21, 2009 at 4:39 PM | PERMALINK

"it is time to put away childish things"

Eight years of GWB summed up in two words.

Posted by: Rod Hoffman on January 21, 2009 at 4:43 PM | PERMALINK

". . .the challenges we face are real, they are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this America: They will be met."

Perhaps not in the category of "bear any burden," but it expresses the same determination.

Posted by: Linkmeister on January 21, 2009 at 4:44 PM | PERMALINK

"He challenged me to recite, from memory, one sentence -- a full sentence -- from the speech, just eight hours after it had been delivered."

This is the most ridiculous measure of a speech I've ever heard.

Steve's friend's shallow, media-driven sound-bite, Republican-driven bumper-sticker mentality is what got us into trouble in the first place.

Obama's challenge to us to put childish things away and start acting like adults, in my mind, would include increasing the capacity of our attention spans so that the depth of our collective knowledge on the issues of the day doesn't have to be limited to what we can fit into an advertising jingle.

Posted by: CJ on January 21, 2009 at 4:44 PM | PERMALINK

Obviously Obama needs to stop talking to us as adults & start delivering meaningless 30 second soundbites that the corporate news media can replay time after time!

Posted by: SadOldVet on January 21, 2009 at 4:46 PM | PERMALINK

I thought it was great yesterday, and it's better today. It had a slow start. But it's an absolutely compelling indictment of Bush and the politics of greed. Two great quotes: "Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things -- some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor -- who have carried us up the long rugged path towards prosperity and freedom." and "As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals." The latter is a Bush smackdown of the highest caliber.

Posted by: Fred from Pescadero on January 21, 2009 at 4:49 PM | PERMALINK

While I see your friend's point, I need only perform this test for myself. Yes I can remember "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." But it has no emotional impact for me, in this day. It has no emotional memory for me.

For me, Obama's speech was about emotional memory -- I cannot recite a line of his speech, but the emotional impact of the speech still lingers. How long that remains in my emotional memory remains to be seen, but I suspect a long while.

Posted by: JWK on January 21, 2009 at 4:51 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin gets it partly right. It was memorable because it was a bit workmanlike (although I would argue that it only seemed so on the surface; the craftsmanship was actually quite subtle and detailed). We are in deep, deep trouble right now. A newly elected president who talks soaring oratory without hard truths, a guy who talks about the future without acknowledging the deep damage of the past eight years, a guy who misses a chance to turn this giant national sense of common purpose toward actual policy achievement would not be a guy who shows me that he understands where we actually are and what we need to do now. Obama didn't fall into that trap.

A third of the way through this, I wondered if I was going to be deprived of a really inspiring Obama speech. Two-thirds of the way through, I'd been inspired in a more immediate, more mature and ultimately more valuable way than I was during his primary speeches. By the time he finished, I was grinning, as usual, at his incredible deftness. The guy and his speechwriting hands are just pitch perfect.

Posted by: shortstop on January 21, 2009 at 4:53 PM | PERMALINK

When Obama asked us to put away childish things.

Who brought the childish things out to begin with?

Has there been a more critical Inaugural address than this?

It was a restrained condemnation of our nation's previous president, though not said in so many words.

Hopefully, Republicans will have the good sense not to project veiled insults at the next Democratic president they succeed in beating at the polls or in the courtroom when polls aren't adequate. This one president was unlike any other and tit for tat will diminish both the Republican Party and our nation.

A would be dictator deserves public repudiation. How will history judge George W. Bush? It has already begun, and his party would do well to let him be condemned like Nixon. To stand up for him is to delay the repair of the party. It does the Democrats no good if the GOP is content to allow corruption and atrocities and be so unworthy of trust to govern.

Posted by: toowearyforoutrage on January 21, 2009 at 4:54 PM | PERMALINK

Things I remember from Obama speeches:

2004 Democrat Convention: "an awesome God"

2008 Primaries "Yes, we can"

2009 SOTU "For us."

All phrases were repeated several times.

Posted by: anonymous on January 21, 2009 at 4:55 PM | PERMALINK

My dear Mr. Benen,,

Would you kindly tell your "someone" that my 10-year-old son has a photograph of Mr. Obama on the wall of his bedroom, above his school desk---and next to that photograph is the complete text of the Inaugural speech. He printed the picture from Obama's campaign website, and downloaded the text yesterday evening.

I imagine he'll know that speech by heart within a month's time, and he's already started doing what that speech encourages him to do.

Just out of curiosity---what has your "someone" done for America lately? What has he done to alleviate the suffering; to "pick himself up, dust himself off, and begin the great task?"

Your "someone" must find it absolutely thrilling to be upstaged by a 10-year-old boy---especially when that boy can see a need and act upon it without being told to do so....

Posted by: Steve W. on January 21, 2009 at 4:57 PM | PERMALINK

In my opinion, this speech will grow in plaudits and strengthen in its inclusion with the all time great inaugural speeches with time.

It was an immensely dense speech. Its allusions seemed superficially simple (hence descriptions like workmanlike and practical roll up sleeves). However, when I listened to the speech on the radio today, and read it again, I was blown away at its nuance and complexity of ideas. It is those ideas that literally I believe articulate the values that will drive policy coming out of his administration.

The part I loved was the part where he spoke of values towards the end of the speech :
"Our challenges may be new. The instruments which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends - honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism - these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout history"

Though I cannot recite it word for word accurately without copying from the speech, this was the section that I remembered and I will be memorizing it...it means that much to ME.

Adding to the impact, his delivery was strong, certain and impeccably necessary to the effectivelness of the message...

Posted by: Elie on January 21, 2009 at 4:57 PM | PERMALINK

actually, the more i think about it, the better the speech does even by Steve's friend's standard.

i don't necessary recall whole lines verbatim, but there are many phrases, either exact or in their gist, that were indeed quite memorable:

to his cynics, "the ground has shifted beneath them."

"give up childish things"

"false choice between security and our ideals"

"we will extend a hand if you unclench your fist"

to those in great capitals "or the small village where my father was from, we are a friend"

"new era of responsibility"

"and non-believers"

and i liked the entire Valley Forge closing analogy, which was one time when he really did build to a nice, Obama-like crescendo.

Posted by: zeitgeist on January 21, 2009 at 5:01 PM | PERMALINK

We've had years of vacuous catch phrases and memorable sound bites like "Victory", and "Decider"; even "Patriotism" was made into an empty sound bite.

President Obama presented the general public with a substantive speech that assessed the reality of this nation's state at present in a straight forward manner, unlike the previous administration who needed jingoism and catchy wording to help some ludicrous rational slide down our throats.

US citizens may need a few weeks to get used to being spoken to as if we have some intelligence.

Obviously, some citizens will find the reversal difficult to swallow.

Posted by: Zli on January 21, 2009 at 5:01 PM | PERMALINK

I have been underwhelmed about the critiques of the address. The point has been made that this was a very different situation than the acceptance speech, the victory speech etc. Why would anyone expect him to go into specific details about his plans, how he is going to decrease troops, deal with the economy, etc.? Has that really been done in previous inaugurations?

Should it be? To me this is a chance to talk about where we've been, where we are, what we did and didn't do to get here, where we want to go, how and what will be needed to accomplish it. In terms that address these issues clearly, but not necessarily with specifics. Especially given the impracticality of a long speech in 20 degree weather.

I thought the speech was excellent when I heard it. It did not have some of the 'soaring' language I am not particularly fond of due to the lack of objectivity in 'bear any burden, pay any price'.

Two of the best comments:

"...people will judge you [leaders] not on what you destroy, but on what you build."

War is NOT the answer. Violence sets us back much further than we need to go.

The closing paragraph, that all should be considered free, and
'have the opportunity to pursue their full measure of happiness.'

Of all the parts of our Declaration and Constitution, the pursuit of happiness has never been acknowledged for it's importance. The recent commercials about kids dreaming of "being a drug dealer" etc. really brought home the idea that healthy people who have a reasonable opportunity to achieve what Maslow called self-actualization, do not become crooks, liars, killers, etc. There is a huge difference between the possibility of winning the Power ball and the probability.

President Obama* significantly decreased that difference in the pursuit of happiness for millions of Americans in real life, simply by becoming #44.

* :) :) :)

Eventually, we will need to become much better at listening to candidates. Not all will have Obama's delivery ability. We need to be able to listen and think around their speaking limits. Those with speech impediments need not apply until we do.

Posted by: Ginny in CO on January 21, 2009 at 5:03 PM | PERMALINK

As an educator, I appreciate the fact that often, I have to reteach or rephrase in order for a child to "get it."

We know the Kennedy lines, the MLK lines, for the simple reason that repeated reinforcements have occurred over the years, and decades.

Obama spoke to us all after he took an oath of office, knowing full well that his words would be played over and over again, that they would be fully transcribed for endless perusals.

I find it fruitless to discuss the merits of easily remembered soundbites versus the depth of his message. There has simply not been enough time since he delivered his speech for his words to fully resonate.

I believe we were supposed to hear that it's time for mature human behavior, time to knuckle down and put the best minds to work on our monumental tasks that lie before us.

Posted by: Tom Nicholson on January 21, 2009 at 5:05 PM | PERMALINK

He challenged me to recite, from memory, one sentence -- a full sentence -- from the speech, just eight hours after it had been delivered. I couldn't, which he saw as evidence of a missed opportunity.

This is juvenile. "Childish things," "the ground has shifted under their feet," "and non-believers," "our spirit is greater," these phrases have resonated in my mind for 28 hours now, and I'm not one of those people who got emotional.

Posted by: Grand Moff Texan on January 21, 2009 at 5:06 PM | PERMALINK

BTW, one of the critiques that has driven me nuts is that this speech had no core, central message, that it was all over the place.

I heard Obama talk about America's journey in taking freedom as far and as quickly as we can. What we need to give up and what we cannot give up to do so.

Posted by: Ginny in CO on January 21, 2009 at 5:11 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, I disagree strongly with Kevin - who is shortchanging Obama's understated nod to the occasion - which was not a campaign platform; while its possible to use soaring rhetoric to lift spirits, clearly, it would have been overkill given the already festive atmosphere prevailing everywhere.

In fact, I myself am coming to accept only grudgingly his amazing aplomb, understanding and maturity, among other virtues of grace, patience, charity etc.. some of which leave my teeth chattering (with disgust) after all these months of my spouse's unstinting adoration of him and his greatness. I will stop here, for obvious reasons.

-- r

Posted by: DesiPanchi on January 21, 2009 at 5:33 PM | PERMALINK

"Workman's speech". The exact words of Pat Lang ...

A lot of people in sync on that one:


Posted by: Ole on January 21, 2009 at 5:34 PM | PERMALINK

I was watching CSPAN last night and they had some presidential historians discussing the speech. One made a very pertinent point; that Kennedy's famous "Ask not what your country can do for you..." line was actually at the time not seen as one of his crowning phrases. Only in retrospect did that line become his most famous.

I think the speech was fitting. Not grandiose or bland, rather, a reflection of his personality. Strong, bold yet reserved, purposeful and sobering.

Posted by: citizen_pain on January 21, 2009 at 5:38 PM | PERMALINK

We do not have to apologize for our way of life.

Markets produce wealth and enhance freedom.

The U.S. will help enemies who unclench their fists.

These are paraphrases, not exact quotes.

Governance has to balance many competing praiseworthy goals, and his speech reflected that.

If Obama is actually able to close down ineffective federal programs I'll be surprised, but the spending of $850B in addition to what is already budgeted ought at least to provide him with some leverage; e.g. "We'll end the sugar subsidy and build a cellulosic ethanol plant right beside the cane fields."

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on January 21, 2009 at 5:41 PM | PERMALINK

My favorite: "As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals." And everything that follows that lead-in.

Posted by: bdop4 on January 21, 2009 at 5:53 PM | PERMALINK

There were quite a few memorable sentences; but what stood out for me as being equally important were the things he left out:

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West [...]To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent [...]but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

Although this statement will make the neo-cons and right-wingers run for the fainting couches; Obama did not use the word spreading Democracy Obama respects differences in goverment, as long as they do not oppress their people. Obama understands that Democracy is not something you force onto people, it is something that happens when people are free to choose.

I'm glad he only used the word 'war' once, and not in the contect of 'war on terror' I hope he will use his first State of the Union address to explain that terrorists are not warrior in a war, but criminals and murderers who need to be brought to justice. No more of this nonsense of enemy combatants

Posted by: Bruno on January 21, 2009 at 5:59 PM | PERMALINK

The man speaks in complete sentences, not sound bites, so remembering an entire sentence verbatim after hearing it once is not reasonable. One the other hand, I rembered rough phrase hope, not fear, and thought this was a nice repudiation of the last 8 years. I have checked on the exact wording:

"On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord."

I like it.

Posted by: PaminBB on January 21, 2009 at 6:04 PM | PERMALINK
Those values upon which our success depends, honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history

I saw this more as a warning for Republican politicians, and a reminder for conservative voters to pay attention to their representatives.

honesty and hard work Honesty has been in short supply amongst Republican elected officials for quite some time. Complaining about having their work week extended, and actually having to show up for work - even if it is to filibuster.

courage and fair play I'll say that courage is something that doesn't apply to either ideology, as both have it in pretty much equal amounts. However when it comes to fair play and Republicans: not so much. Voter suppression, gerrymandering, changing the goal posts, obstructing, etc...

tolerance and curiosity That had nothing to do with conservatives at all: Gay bashing, anti-abortion, intelligent design, global warming myth, anti science, and the list goes on.

loyalty and patriotism Here again Republicans gave those words a bad name: Loyalty meant standing by your man, even if he's corrupt, treasonous, and caught in illegal and immoral acts. (list of examples would be too long
For trolls reading this: Patriotism is more than a lapel pin, a bumber sticker, a magnet on your car, putting your hand over your heart during the Pledge.

So yes, Obama was trying to educate the self identified conservatives who voted for Bush twice what those words REALLY meant before the GOP hijacked them and abused them for political gain.

When you dig into the speech and re-read it a few times; it keeps on giving more gems that can be interpreted in different ways. It's up to us to make sure the trolls don't misunderstand it.

Posted by: bruno on January 21, 2009 at 6:07 PM | PERMALINK

I commented yesterday that I thought "dense" was a good adjective. It was 18 minutes where I at least thought evry word after his throw away thanks to Dumbya, was carefully considered and intended to be heartfelt. I thought it was an exceptionally well written speech, I thought the delivery was okay--the venue was certainly challenging-and I thought it was not particularly lyrical. In retrospect I think the speech was pretty lyrical but there was so much substance to it that I was too busy thinking about what he was saying to hear it. That is also the reason that we remember phrases instead of whole sentences. I guess choosing hope over fear is perhaps my favorite phrase not only for take off on FDR's "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself" under similar circumstances, but I think it was also meant to reference Michael Moore's Farenheight 911 or Bowling for Columbine (I can not remember what I ate yesterday for lunch either) where he talks about governing through fear. That is the GOP approach--if you don't let us torture and eavesdrop you will be killed in your beds, if you let gay people lead normal lives they will seduce your children, if you let cancer stricken people smoke dope to relieve their suffering, the country will go down the tubes, if we do not "win" in Iraq the terrorists will etc.

Posted by: terry on January 21, 2009 at 6:14 PM | PERMALINK

I'm with you, Benen. I thought it was a fine speech, the best of my life, in fact. As to it being "workmanlike"? Well, he worked Bush and Cheney over well enough to suit me. So yeah, I guess "workmanlike" will suffice as a description.

Posted by: JL on January 21, 2009 at 6:27 PM | PERMALINK

Obama, as a Constitutional scholar, is particularly aware of the part of the oath of office which speaks to enemies, both foreign and domestic.

As he methodically, calmly and logically laid out the carefully redrawn lines in the sand, which to my eye, looks like it approximates the Constitutional protective boundaries pre-Bush/Cheney, I believe that he was addressing the domestic enemies present in front of him, beside him, behind him and all around him, as well as the enemies we all commonly recognize.

Near the end, when he quoted Washington reading the words about the coldest month, etc., it occurred to me that those weren't Washington's words. Rather, Thomas Pain wrote them in An American Crisis as he traveled through the wilds of the mid-Atlantic during the winter months pondering why New England wasn't as confounded with an overrun of problematic Tories, which could be considered modern-day Republicans.

Do you remember the beginning of Crisis? Sunshine soldier and summer patriot? Tyranny as hell? Freedom the most precious and not a cheap imitation? Virtues?


I think you have to read the original works which Obama referenced in order to gain a fuller understanding of whom he was directing his remarks and messaging.

Posted by: Annie on January 21, 2009 at 6:33 PM | PERMALINK

Sounds like he is channeling Ayn Rand in this passage...

Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted — for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things

Posted by: red state mike on January 21, 2009 at 6:58 PM | PERMALINK

I appreciate his kudos to the military and their history of service...

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves.

Posted by: red state mike on January 21, 2009 at 7:00 PM | PERMALINK

I was especially impressed with his pledge to send the entire Bush Administration to Mars before the decade is out.

Posted by: AJB on January 21, 2009 at 7:53 PM | PERMALINK

Sounds like he is channeling Ayn Rand in this passage...

I don't think Rand would even approve of our current method of capitalism. She wasn't particularly fond of financiers and other people who made their money through manipulating markets. She thought people should actually be creating things.

Tell me what a hedge fund manager or a banker who sold derivatives created through their work other than financial disaster for the rest of us.

Posted by: Mnemosyne on January 21, 2009 at 7:59 PM | PERMALINK
Tell me what a hedge fund manager or a banker who sold derivatives created through their work other than financial disaster for the rest of us

They don't create anything other than enriching themselves by shaving a few percentage points of commissions off for themselves along they way.

They do not contribute anything meaningful to society and should be treated accordingly; not the preferential treatment they have been getting for years. Cap the maximum amount of money they can make on any transaction and tax them to the point that it doesn't pay to come up with devious attempts to bamboozle the population at large.

Banks should be in the business of taking in deposits and paying a modest interest rate that is guaranteed. That money they can use to loan money out to businesses and people needing money for a variety of reasons. That's what they originally were intended to do, and they need to go back to their roots, instead of inventing all those new fangled instruments even they themselves don't understand.

The same with stock brokers... what is their value to society? Making tons of money giving the wrong advice, and again making commission on things they do not have a personal stake in. There is no reason for any person to make millions of dollars without actually contributing anything specific to society at large.

Posted by: bruno on January 21, 2009 at 8:27 PM | PERMALINK

I don't think Rand would even approve of our current method of capitalism.
Posted by: Mnemosyne

Probably not. The idea that someone who just moves money around in what is essentially a service job can get filthy rich is sad.

Posted by: red state mike on January 21, 2009 at 8:43 PM | PERMALINK

I agree. I saw it on out on the Mall and it didn't really grab me, but when I saw the C-SPAN replay that evening my opinion rose dramatically. Part of the reason is that is denser and more content-heavy that most political speeches. There were a lot of powerful ideas there that take awhile to sink in. I think we'll be talking about and quoting from this speech for a long time to come.

Posted by: Virginia on January 21, 2009 at 8:48 PM | PERMALINK

I truly doubt the memorable lines from FDR's and JFK's inaugurals were immediately embedded in every listener's brain. We know them by those single lines now because they've been chosen by the media and historians after the fact and endlessly repeated. If Obama becomes as significant a President, we'll go back and find the lines that best represent what he managed to bring to the office and in 50 years those lines will stand out with just as much power.

Posted by: daveadams on January 21, 2009 at 8:59 PM | PERMALINK

the makers of things

Rand idolized industrial executives, not the makers of things who were the people who worked for those idols of hers.

And, I might add, the people who just move money around tend to be the biggest fans of Ayn Rand.

Posted by: Tyro on January 21, 2009 at 11:38 PM | PERMALINK

daveadams nailed it. For me, the line that really popped when I first heard it was the "false choice between our security and our ideals" line, because it was such a repudiation of the Bush presidency. Another thing that I really liked was, in putting our situation in historical context, referring back to our ancestors who immigrated here, worked in sweatshops, fought on battlefields, "for us", and then bracketed that at the end by asking us to focus on whether our children's children would think we had done well. I thought both of those sections were very powerful.

Posted by: CT on January 22, 2009 at 1:24 AM | PERMALINK

The phrase that sets the tone for everything else was that when we became a man, we put away childish things. The whole speech was a call for people, communities, the nation to grow up and behave like adults in many different aspects.

Posted by: Texas Aggie on January 22, 2009 at 2:11 AM | PERMALINK

Red State Mike: I appreciate his kudos to the military and their history of service

Yeah. He sounds like a typical Democrat.

And like a typical Democrat, in constrast to the Republicans, he'll likely walk the walk and not just talk the talk.

Posted by: Gregory on January 22, 2009 at 8:03 AM | PERMALINK

Memorable lines?

Not the same, but, I still chill whenever I hear those immortal words spoken by Edward Everett at Gettysburg.

Posted by: berttheclock on January 22, 2009 at 9:14 AM | PERMALINK

I thought the speech was incredibly deep and broad the first time I heard it, and it seems even more so each time I see a quote or paraphrase.

I think decades of false platitudes and surface treatment have atrophied the ability of our nation to comprehend deep concepts.

Our pundits (and much of our citizenry) lack the tools for absorbing speeches like this. This was on another level, and the corporate media and their shills are struggling to parse it.

It will take time - some of us appreciating this more slowly (and some of us never understanding, much less appreciating), but this was a fantastic speech, and will be seen as such after it has had time to age.

Posted by: Henk on January 22, 2009 at 9:35 AM | PERMALINK

A neighbor of ours had not been able to watch the proceedings. So, we watched the re-runs played by C-Span. This is a speech which will grow due to his thoughtful subtle points. This is a speech meant to be reread by all.

Am not comparing it to Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, but, on that day, the papers wrote of Edward Everett and not Lincoln.

Posted by: berttheclock on January 22, 2009 at 9:45 AM | PERMALINK



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