Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Speech

It’s no secret that I was prepared for the finest inaugural speech in history. I didn’t get it, but there may be reasons.
by Charlie Leck

I wasn’t really crazy about the speech as I listened to it. Frankly, I was downright disappointed. One of the friends with whom I watched the inaugural said that I was probably expecting too much.

Well, I was expecting a lot. This is one of the finest orators I have ever heard. As he rose to speak, my insides were screaming, “Bring it, man! Bring it!”

This is a guy who is supremely confident in his ability to address big crowds. I was so sure he would stun his audience with an address supremely more dramatic than anything he had ever delivered. Yet, it wasn’t that at all. Bill Safire, a speech writer for Richard Nixon and a former NY Times columnist saw it the way I did.

“Our 44th president’s Inaugural Address was solid, respectable, uplifting, suitably short, superbly delivered, but — in light of the towering expectations whipped up that his speech might belong in the company of those by Lincoln, F.D.R. and Kennedy — fell short of the anticipated immortality.”
Why? Was he already acting too Presidential? Was he being too cautious – too politically correct?
No, I think it was more than that. The speech didn’t have cogent theme – one that would be stated in the introduction and reaffirmed near its conclusion. Nor, as I look back on it, was there anything particularly quotable in this speech and that actually astounds me with surprise.

Obama chose to point back to George Washington as a symbol for his speech. How much I thought he would lean more heavily on Lincoln or Franklin Roosevelt. There was gold to be mined in these two later Presidents’ speeches and Obama’s speech writer failed to pan for it.

The New York Times had generally high praise for the speech.

“The speech was not programmatic, nor was it filled with as much soaring language as F.D.R.’s first Inaugural Address or John Kennedy’s only one. But it left no doubt how Mr. Obama sees the nation’s problems and how he intends to fix them and, unlike Mr. Bush, the necessary sacrifices he will ask of all Americans.

"The American story ‘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,’ he said.”
Yes, it was a clear and well delivered speech. There were points when I thought it might take off and soar, but it never did. It was a very good speech and maybe even an excellent one. It was not, however, a great one.

Jeff Shesol, a speech writer for President Clinton made some interesting observations. Among them was this one:

“Of course, the thrust of today’s speech is that an era of dogmatism, ‘petty grievances and false promises”’ has come to an end, and that “a new era of responsibility” is dawning. Like Franklin D. Roosevelt, President Obama clearly understands that change is terrifying to most people, and he stresses, therefore, the continuity of his aims with enduring American principles. “What is demanded,” President Obama said today, ‘is a return to these truths.’”
Well, the speech was about the only thing that disappointed me today – although the Chief Justice’s fumble during the swearing-in also stunned me – and it was a marvelous display of Democracy in action as the transfer of power took place so smoothly.

Michelle Obama and the children were beautiful. The music was very nice. The highlights for me were, as I said in my blog yesterday, the incredible poem by Elizabeth Anderson and the benediction by the Reverend Joseph Lowery.

1 comment:

  1. Chas - I completely agree with you. He didn't seem to stick to a particular theme and maybe I was expecting more because he is an outstanding speaker.

    Thanks again for a good piece and for continuing to look at things clearly. I know you really like this guy and it initially surprised me to see that his speech let you down a little bit. Again, I share your feelings almost exactly!