Jan 22 2009
Those speeches of last winter and spring make up probably the most sustained, successful, and memorable verbal performance in American politics since Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Fireside Chats or perhaps since Abraham Lincoln. Having worked as a speechwriter, it was astonishing to see one man, in the midst of intense, competitive campaign activity, deliver so many superb and deeply personal speeches, something few politicians manage to do more than once or twice a year. Barack Obama is president because of those speeches, something that cannot be said of any president before him in the television age, and few before that. For months it seemed the strongest case against Obama was that his politics consisted of “just words.”
And yet, the president has moved on. Through the course of the campaign, his words slowly came down to earth, from inspiring and cocky to the mundane and practical. As the “gathering clouds” of the economic crisis became too dark to ignore, he accelerated his move from inspiration to work. His words no longer serve the purpose of pulling us up but of naming and giving order to the work to be done: roads, the electric grid, ending torture, restoring America’s place in the world.
The speeches are over. We’ll miss them. What a joy it was to live through that period, and we can only hope that its light shines on the presidency it gave birth to.
Mark gives voice to a nagging sense that has been tugging on me; fully answering why I found Obama’s Inaugural speech pitch perfect, while so many found it flat. The days of Obama’s soaring speeches are over – and the national stage may not give him any further opportunities to soar as he had. We now must attune our ears to the stirring sound of a call to service, to hard work, to sacrifice. We have a miry sludge to march through – and at every step we will march one plodding step at a time. This isn’t pretty, and the words to push us through will likewise will seldom be so.
It was a wonderful time, and I hope to own a dvd of those amazing speeches that got us this far. But I think for the next four years, we will have to adjust to a much more down to earth Presidential tone.