UPDATED: From across the aisle, mixed reviews


 

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.


 
Filed under:

UPDATED: From across the aisle, mixed reviews

  1. I’d be really thrilled if our own political debates were more often like that.

    Wait until the clownservatives start claiming that the Obama presidency is illegitimate because he didn’t say the oath right and then get back to me on that.

    • Something tells me our own political debates will not more often be like that, if prominent members of the debate club refer to their opponents by ridiculous names like clownservatives, lieberals, and the like.

      Way to lead the charge Mr. McClelland.

  2. Obama is great at speechifying, and he didn’t disappoint on this occasion. I thought he took the correct tone – times are tough but we will get through this together – and there were no partisan shots at Bush/Repubs.

    I agree the prose is inelegant but this was a speech to be listened to, not an essay to be read. Obama made the words sound inspiring with his cadence/inflection.

    The only thing that didn’t sound right to me is how much he talked about the people and how they are the ones who will get America through recession but his policies suggest he trusts government more than people.

    • Then you wer’n’t listening then. The govt is the people, down there, anyway.

    • Yeah, some prose is meant to be read in your mind, some to be listened to. This was more the latter.

      Content wise though it was wonderful. “Lets grow up” seemed to be the theme, and that was a subtle knock on Bush and the gang of Neo-Con fratboys that have led the free world into financial ruin and war after war.

      Also, what other president has ever worried about reaching out to the Muslim world in their inaugaration speech. I even hear B.O. has even lined up a major speech in Morocco to outine foreign policy.

      That said, there have been so many speeches in the past couple of days I’m glad its all over. B.O. was becoming a parody of himself.

      (Slightly OT: wouldn’t it be a real torch passing moment if both Kennedy and Byrd stiff it from over-emotion?)

      • “Content wise though it was wonderful. “Lets grow up” seemed to be the theme, and that was a subtle knock on Bush and the gang of Neo-Con fratboys that have led the free world into financial ruin and war after war.”

        I think you just broke my irony detector. And it was one week past the end of its warranty, too.

        • Calibrate it against this to see if it’s working:

          Speaking of right wing critics, I note Mark Steyn has heralded the day in a column in which he places much of the blame for American racial strife on black politicians. Oh, please please please return this ‘responsible journalist’ to your pages, post-haste!

          (Actually, given how much I groused on the day of the verdict, I should take this opportunity to thank you for exercising your discretion to NOT publish Mr. Steyn. Better part of valour, and all).

  3. Yeah, Obama delivers alright. That poem might have offered a challenge though?

    • ‘Are’

  4. Most [conservative commentators] found some to like and some to dislike. I’d be really thrilled if our own political debates were more often like that.

    North of the border, many political commentators are too cynical and jaded to analyze a politician’s speech based on what was actually said. Instead, their role is to provide a kind of meta-analysis of the speech, by asking the following questions:

    -How does the speech affect the politician’s standings in the eternal political horse race?

    -What groups was the politician trying to pander to? Will the pandering succeed? How does this fit in with their overall strategy?

    -Given that speech itself is meaningless, because politicians seldom mean what they say, how can we get into the politician’s pyche to determine his “true” intentions? How should these presumed intentions be criticized?

    -Given that politicians are assumed to be hypocrites, what contradictions (real or symbolic) can be exposed? Did he say something different six years ago?

    -How will it play in Quebec?

    • That’s very funny. True, too. Sadly true.

    • -How does the speech affect the politician’s standings in the eternal political horse race?

      -What groups was the politician trying to pander to? Will the pandering succeed? How does this fit in with their overall strategy?

      -Given that speech itself is meaningless, because politicians seldom mean what they say, how can we get into the politician’s pyche to determine his “true” intentions? How should these presumed intentions be criticized?

      -Given that politicians are assumed to be hypocrites, what contradictions (real or symbolic) can be exposed? Did he say something different six years ago?

      -How will it play in Quebec?

      So true and so sad. Other than a rare gem like Mr. Wells, Canadian political “journalism” has been mostly pathetic (even if I am of the same slant as the writer) for the reason you have so cleverly outlined.

  5. It seemed okay to me. No surprises. I described it to a friend of mine who wasn’t able to see it as “exactly what you’d expect. Very solid, but nothing spectacular.” He underscored everything he’s been talking about for months, it was comprehensible, and it set up the right expectations, I think, for what he’ll be working at doing to try and fix things.

    The proof is in the pudding, of course. I am very interested to see what his first executive orders are.

  6. The righty critics had to stretch a bit to find something to criticize. It was the best inaugural speech we’ve heard in years. But it was not his best. It’s hard to top his Rev. Wright speech. Can’t hit a home run every time.

  7. I’ll be thrilled if all the newfound fans of Obama will take it to heart when he says that “a nation cannot prosper if it favours only the prosperous.” There seems to a rise in unenlightened self-interest in our country well represented by the Tax Federation types who pretend that anyone who believes in government is somehow Pollyannaish and that cutting taxes is the way to economic recovery.

    I think the real naivete is the belief that prosperity is somehow a deliverable of the wealthy when it really has to do with the distribution of opportunity in the form of equitable infrastructure and services like education and healthcare and housing.

    • agreed.

  8. I have to concede I was disappointed. A good line or two – “Ask not what your country can do for you . . ” ‘We do these things not because they’re easy . . . “Bear any burden, endure any hardship . . ” – can inspire a whole generation. I mean there was that whole “The New Frontier” Where’d he get that? Say what you will about Kennedy, he just grows bigger in stature with every comparison.

  9. I like the posts that automatically assume that canadian conservatives line up with the american republicans and wanted McCain ! Nothing believe you me …. nothing could be further than the truth … the CPC is ecstatic that Obama won for a whole variety of reasons and myself being a Conservative I was certainly rooting for him to win and I hang out with other Conservatives here in Victoria and we were to a person all very in favour of him winning and as well everyone I know and have heard from are all looking forward to working with the Democrats. I love Obama’s speechifying and can’t wait to get home from work to hear it … every time I hear one of his speeches it’s almost like I need a cigarette after!

    • I love how Conservatives are suddenly claiming kinship with the Democrats, as if the PM’s Chief of Staff didn’t try and torpedo Obama’s bid back in the primaries (and they hadn’t spent the past eight years praising everything Bush did…Conservatives (and Republicans, for that matter) never seem to recognize that even if they have the capacity to be wilfully stupid enough forget history, other people aren’t.

  10. Speaking of critics, my wife ( who is not a critic ) feels that the First Guy and the First Gal are in the midst of the First Official Tiff right now while they are reviewing the parade. Something about body language and everything that attracts her interest is away from him. He’s trying diligently to charm her into a better attitude but with limited success. The First Mother-in-law ain’t looking happy either.

    Cute.

  11. Surely the overuse of “surely” has to stop. Liked his nod to us many non-believers.

  12. I thought it was a fantastic speech – a blend of aspiration and motivation, just like it needed to be. Tough in parts – proclaiming the virtue of hard work – which reminded me of a 1940 speech by walter lippmann where he said, in words that could easily have been from obama’s speech: “We are where we are because whenever we had a choice to make, we have chosen the alternative that required the least effort at the moment… The disaster in the midst of which we are living is a disaster in the character of men.”

    i do wonder, however, about Obama’s decision not to use Yes We Can in some context. And i’m curious as hell to why there wasn’t really anything close to a signature, defining line in the address. Weird.

    • A measure perhaps of just how high the expectations are; while at the same time knowing the enormity of the challenge ahead. Cometh the time, cometh the man. I certainly hope so.

  13. Off-topic, but it’s amazing how a *civil* comment I made in this post lamenting freedom of expression in Canada ended up in moderation days after it was posted.

    Do you guys take lessons in exquisite irony or what?

  14. And did anyone notice that if you play the John Williams quartet piece “Airs and Simple Gifts” backwards you get the theme from Star Wars? I’m not saying it means anything, but it’s kinda weird. With Cheney in the wheel chair and everything.

    • I thought they might play “Imperial March” when Bush jr was entering….

  15. Frankly, this post is nothing but a manifestation of Paul Wells’s “bright boy” syndrome.

    • This whole blog, surely.

      • Ah, you’re right.

        • Rick Salutin? Is that you?

  16. Paul, not to trouble you with trifles, but am I somehow blocked from commenting chez Maclean’s? I seem to be able to post via a proxy but not otherwise. I don’t remember delivering any xenophobic rants, comparing Joe Biden to Hitler, or abusing my enemies too much . . . It started when I diss’d Internet Explorer, mind you. Any chance you could unblock me, if blocked I be? I feel like a kindergartener stuck outside after recess, pounding on the glass in vain while the other kids get to have storytime and playdough.

  17. Paul, not to trouble you with trifles, but am I (J@ck M!tchell) somehow blocked from commenting chez Maclean’s? I seem to be able to post via a proxy but not otherwise. I don’t remember delivering any xenophobic rants, comparing Joe Biden to Hitler, or abusing my enemies too much . . . It started when I diss’d Internet Explorer, mind you. Any chance you could unblock me, if blocked I be? I feel like a kindergartener stuck outside after recess, pounding on the glass in vain while the other kids get to have storytime and playdough.

    • They grew tired of your poems.
      ;-)

    • Ack! I promise we’ll look into this right away.

      • Ti-Guy….. and Jack too !! It’s a plot, I tell you ! A plot !

        • This might as well be where I mention that I abandoned all attempts to play Comment Cop a few weeks ago. Not worth the effort, and the board is mostly self-policing anyway, so if anyone’s comments are vanishing, FYI it’s not me vanishing them.

    • First they came for Jack Mitchell, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t Jack Mitchell…

    • I’ve been told that the problem has been fixed – hopefully, Jack will see this and try again, and if he’s still blocked, will email me and let me know.

      • I’m b-b-b-b-b-baaaaack! Many thanks, bloggers and tech guys and Mr. Intini! The verse will scan this time, I promise!

      • (‘Tis I! Behind the mask! Quiet or the filters will hear us!)

        Just emailed you and a gentleman who kindly wrote to me this morning. Looks like I’m fine as long as I use a pseudonym, but “J@ck M!tchell” is being filtered as spam — the phrase itself and not my IP. Story of my life! : ) Thanks for your concern!

        • Now I’m looking like a major schizophrenic, my earlier comment being restored! I’m trying this now to see if I’m able to post unfiltered. Finally, a (sub)thread that’s all about ME! . . . if it appears.

          • looking at your picture, it appears you are afflicted with some sort of mutational skin condition. You have been quarantined. Ti-Guy was banished with you because we all want him to have a mutational skin condition. Kody too.

  18. While watching the inauguration, I couldn’t help but feel jealous at times.
    How great it would be to have a Canadian leader who could draw such excitement and support.
    Throughout the inauguration, I saw various American friends use facebook to share their feelings.

    One posted that she “thinks that this inauguration feels like the first date with a really great guy after an eight year dysfunctional relationship with a loser who spent all my money.”

    Other posts were very emotional, and all I could think of was good for them…

    Myself – When noon hit, and the Bush jr. era came to an end, all I could think of was the Munchkins…

    “”Ding Dong, The Witch is dead. Which old Witch? The Wicked Witch! Ding Dong! The Wicked Witch is dead!”

    Canadian politics must find its own Obama – we need to restore confidence amongst the populace, and make government work for the people. We need new ideas, and new approaches to resolving our problems. But who can perform such a feat?

    Maybe Justin Trudeau?

    • Sam: “Canadian politics must find its own Obama.” — I disagree. I don’t think that charisma in itself is the measure of a good politician. I do think Obama has enormous personal appeal, but I think it is too soon to determine how effective he will be in office. We have no idea if he will be successful in “making government work for the people.”

      Sometimes people just need good managers (now — with all the financial upheaval might be such a time). High principles and good judgment are as important as charisma. Other times — e.g. times of War, they may need figures who are more inspiring, but sometimes it is the times themselves that make leaders seem inspiring. (I don’t think Churchill was all that well liked before the War.)

      • By all means, you need more meat than charisma to be a good leader!
        High principles are a must!

        With Obama, he just stands out so much more because of the contrast with Bush jr.

        Just look at day #1, and the two Executive Orders and three Presidential Memoranda!

        I’d love to hear Harper share his thought about transparency in gov’t!
        Talk about the polar opposite!

        Think Bill C-61, and how open they were with the public about what they were scheming to do….

  19. the new mantra…

    “this we can”

    “this we will”

    chant ad infinitum..