Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Speech

Haven't seen it, but read the text. I assume he did a fine job delivering it much as I assume Barry Bonds will punish a hanging curveball, Joe Frazier will hurt somebody who drops their right hand, Kobe Bryant will score two-on-one running a fast break.

The text of Obama's speeches always strike me as pedestrian. It's as if he and his speechwriters know he will do well on the delivery, so the speech itself doesn't have to be all that good. There's nothing memorable -- no "Thousand points of light," no "I'm from the government and I'm here to help" (A line Obama could easily take for his own and turn on its head, I might add, if he had the guts; he could even use it mock-humorously to take away some of the sting), no "The only thing to fear is fear itself." Instead, what you get is watered-down academese. They're dull.

The other thing that bothers me -- really, deeply, bothers me -- about Obama's speeches is the tendency he shows to want to cover all the bases, be everything to everyone. As a result, his speeches always come across as a little fuzzy to me -- you sort of know what he's implying but everything is rubber-bumpered with so many qualifications and "I understand other people thinks" and so on, that you don't really know what he's going to do. As a result, not only do his speeches lack clarity, but they lack textual forcefulness-- he never really sets the expectation for decisive, specific action, which means when he does act he has to work even harder to get anything done. Speeches like these are his bread and butter -- they're his singular strength as a politician. If he can't use them to drive the debate, then he won't succeed, period, any more than Joe Frazier could have succeeded if he couldn't hit anything with his left hook, any more than Kobe Bryant could succeed if he couldn't take a slower player off the dribble. People have strengths, and they have to take advantage of them, and Obama isn't doing that in these set piece speeches.

Mindreading alert: I've been re-reading an FDR biography, and one of the things that really set him apart was that he enjoyed the fight, enjoyed the tussle of politics -- and partly as a result of this, he excelled at it. Obama seems neither to enjoy the tussle, nor excel at it -- it's a chore to him, and the result, I think, shows.