During my evening commute last night, I caught an excerpt of the President's speech at Penn State yesterday on the radio. In the brief bit I heard, he talked about increasing energy efficiency in buildings around the country as a way of helping both the environment and the economy.
The content of what he had to say seemed reasonable enough, and on its face appeared to be part of a sensible economic plan. What left me musing wasn't what little I heard him say, but rather my response to it.
I didn't find him annoying.
Sad to say, the last couple of times I've heard President Obama deliver major addresses, I've come away unimpressed. I'm still very much a supporter, but his much-vaunted oratorical skills have been leaving me cold. Both his speech in Tucson after the Giffords attack and his State of the Union sounded hackneyed and formulaic. Given that most of the reviews I read gave him positive marks, at least regarding the former, clearly it wasn't just that he had given lousy speeches. Why did I find him such a thrilling speaker as a candidate, only to watch the bloom come off the rose when he assumed office?
I think I figured it out. Both his Tucson speech and SOTU were heavy on broad themes. Lots of rhetoric about unity and America's character, lots of grandiloquent language and orotund prosody. In many ways, they were reminiscent of some of his more famous speeches, going back to his heralded (and, in my opinion, brilliant) speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.
The problem is that we all know what happened after all those fabulous speeches about changing the culture and tone of Washington, and Hope and Change and such. I remember 2008 fondly, but 2009 came immediately thereafter and blew any illusions about changing DC to smithereens. It was, if anything, even more rankly partisan than before. And while I place the blame for that almost entirely with the GOP, it was a bummer to see that part of my hope for the Obama administration was nothing more than idealistic hooey.
(Yes, yes. I should have known better. Shame on me. But it's not like that was the ONLY reason I voted for him. Hell, with Palin on the other ticket, I would probably have voted for Captain Kangaroo.)
Having now come back to my misanthropic, politically cynical senses, I no longer yearn to hear the POTUS wax poetic about American virtue or character or beauty. Heard it, thanks. Didn't take. Not sure it's his fault, but no longer interested in hearing any more about it. Even if the Tucson event called for such rhetoric, I'm no longer personally receptive to it. (And, sorry, but I still think all the audience whooping was inappropriate.) Any time I hear it now, it sounds hollow and devoid of much merit.
When he gets to specifics, on the other hand, I'm happy to hear him speak.
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