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John, You're Too Hard On Obama's Speech

I want to dissent a bit from John's intelligent critique of Barack Obama's first inaugural. John, you write:

Is Obama facing partisan warfare? Is Washington deeply divided? It may become so, but the evidence of the last month does not suggest that this is a critical problem.

Huh? The evidence of the last couple of years have suggested this is a terrible problem. I got at this in a recent piece on the House conservatives; they are predisposed to view Obama and Democrats in general -- even the Blue Dogs -- with deep suspicion and animosity. And the feeling goes both ways. As Republican Study Committee chairman Tom Price puts it in his statement today: "[o]ur solutions to achieve these ends will surely place us significantly at odds."

I agree that the speech suffered from being abstract and, sometimes, awfully cliched ("the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms"). But, John, you also complain that it "lacked any reference to people or situations in the present," like "[n]ot enough retrofitting homes" or "[a]uto companies making the wrong cars."

All I can say is, thank God it didn't contain these references. The fashionable mode in Democratic speechwriting today, exemplified by John Edwards, is to give shout-outs to grim, granular examples of the population's woe, say, a woman encountered on the campaign trail who lost her leg during a feral dog stampede and didn't have health insurance. It's a mawkish tendency. Obama has a huge responsibility before him. It relates to helping the woman with no health insurance or the mechanic who got laid off, but his task today was to frame it bigger than that, to explain what it means to turn back--after the hiccup of the Bush years--to the hopes of the founders and to "[carry] forth that great gift of freedom and deliver ... it safely to future generations." Reanimating the lost heroic figure of George Washington made it a lofty speech, but it was an inaugural speech, after all, not a State of the Union.

--Eve Fairbanks

Click here to read Noam Scheiber's analysis of the speech.