Andrew Sullivan rounds up U.S. conservative commentators’ reaction to the Obama inaugural address. Most found some to like and some to dislike. I’d be really thrilled if our own political debates were more often like that.
As for my own reaction, I’m surprised, on re-reading the speech, at how un-pretty, even inelegant its prose is. (“All this we can do. And all this we will do.” That was uncomfortably reminiscent of a few dozen speeches I heard around Ottawa in the ’90s.) Surprised because I found it very moving in the delivery, and I’ve tended to be a hard marker of Obama speeches. This one didn’t seek to sum up the whole presidency in one speech. George Stephanopoulos was reminiscing about Bill Clinton staying up until 5 a.m. on his inauguration day, re-writing the speech. That’s just dumb, and Clinton was, usually, not a dumb guy. It’s what you do when you want the speech to be the whole four years. A nail doesn’t have to be the house, David Mamet likes to tell film students. It just has to be a good nail.
Obama needed to introduce his mandate, not tell us how it went before it’s even begun. His speech delivered three important messages. The country is in a fix. Responsibility for the mess and the repair does not lie elsewhere, but with each citizen. And clues to the remedy can be found in the country’s founding documents and ideas. He made a sturdy start of things, it seemed to me.
UPDATE: Former presidential speechwriters, including the great Safire (greater for what he’s done since he left the White House than for what he did in it, but still) check out the new guy’s moves. Tremendous fun.