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Heilemann: Obama's Spare Inaugural Rhetoric Signals Strategic Mastery

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babylonsister Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jan-21-09 08:18 AM
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Heilemann: Obama's Spare Inaugural Rhetoric Signals Strategic Mastery

Heilemann: Obama's Spare Inaugural Rhetoric Signals Strategic Mastery
2/20/09 at 12:07 AM

Barack Obamas election against daunting odds was a testament to many things, but not least his remarkable capacity to rock the mic. On Tuesday, he delivered the most-watched, most-anticipated, most historically significant speech of his life in front of a crowd so massive and so joyous that it took your breath away. Immediately beforehand came the swearing-in, which was a sublime thing, engendering even in his critics and partisan adversaries a feeling of national pride and providing his fans with a rush of satisfaction and and jolt of pure exhilaration.

Yet the speech that followed was less than thrilling in itself, perhaps by design. Its structure was formal, classical, the substance largely abstract. There were no anecdotes or narratives, personal or otherwise. There were few rhetorical flourishes, no gratuitous bids for Barletts. The language was spare, at times even pedestrian telling Americans that "we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America," for example.

And though the speech was by no means pessimistic, its optimism was balanced by a cold-eyed realism and plenty of hard talk about not taking short cuts, a crisis brought on by greed and irresponsibility, and a collective failure to make hard choices. The political purpose of all this is easy enough to see: Obama is preparing the country for tough trade-offs down the line. (And if he's serious about reforming entitlements, you can certainly see the logic of laying down that predicate.) But it's certainly not the kind of language that caused so many hearts to flutter during his campaign.

More familiar to them will have been Obama's focus on another set of choices: the false ones that have gripped our politics lo these many years. He listed three: between whether "government is too big or too small;" between whether "the market is a force for good or ill;" between "our safety and our ideals." Obama's contention that these "stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply" is not surprising. It's at the core of his attempt to define himself as an apostle of pragmatism, to transcend the hoary partisan and ideological divisions that he's long cited as central to the dysfunction of Washington.

But it's also clear in all three cases that his implicit critique is stronger of one side than the other; that the reflexive small-government crowd, the market fundamentalists, and those who believe that national security requires the trampling of the constitution are the ones more dangerously under the spell of idiotic dogma. Indeed, you could read this triad as a thinly veiled critique of the now-departed (whew, that feels good to write) Bush Administration. And that's precisely what many liberals did along with thrilling, not unreasonably, at Obama's acknowledgement of "non-believers" as being a vital part of the American fabric.


Even in less dire circumstances, unification is what inaugurals are all about. And at a moment like this, the imperative is only that much greater. His speech yesterday may not have been his prettiest or most intoxicating. But it may wind up serving a higher, more noble purpose: contributing to a climate where it's possible to get shit done.
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bemildred Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jan-21-09 08:57 AM
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1. I think that speech is going to grow with time.
It wasn't loud, or long, but it was deep.
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babylonsister Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jan-21-09 09:17 AM
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2. Yes, I think you're exactly right. Already, some writers are marveling. nt
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