Obama's Rhetorical Superpowers

Everyone assumes that because Obama's (first!) inaugural speech was not as uplifting as, say, his 2004 convention speech, it must be because he deliberately held himself back, worried about inspiring too much hope on which he can't possibly deliver. Maybe. But isn't there at least a tiny possibility that Obama did mean to inspire and uplift us -- and failed? Maybe he was a tiny bit shook up after the botched oath? Or his judgment of the quality of the text was off? Or we're all a bit dulled after having ascended with him so many times before?

I mean, the man gives a good speech. Lord knows I've sniffled my way through countless ones. But he's not a rhetorical god. It is possible for him to intend one effect on an audience, and have another.

1 comment:

  1. Elizabeth:
    Here's my two cents --

    First Penny: I think there have only been three good inaugural addresses in the history of the USA, including Washington who gets points for limiting himself to about 150 words. The reason is that the inauguration itself is the focus, not the speech. As a priest, I never preach more than 2 minutes at weddings, because the sermon shouldn't be the focus of the wedding; I think the same holds true for inaugurations. The actions -- the procession, the vows, the parade -- are the focus. Words are really secondary, or even tertiary.

    Second Penny: I think a lot of folks expect Obama to be more fiery than he is. His tradition isn't fiery Baptist or Methodist rhetoric; it is Hawaiin cool-ness, a powerful mode that relys on low-affect (foreign to much of the continental US). Most of the US wants Jonathan Edwards (18th century, not 20th century, Edwards) 'sinners in the hands of an angry god' excitement; Obama is much more, well, Zen.