20 Jan 2009

President Obama’s First Speech

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Just heard it while getting lunch. I had to turn to the NPR feed because Rush kept making comments and it was annoying me. Obama certainly is a wonderful speaker, and if you are going to be stuck listening to somebody for 4 years, it could be worse. I loved his themes on foreign relations, but I am waiting to see if he actually closes Gitmo, draws down troops “over there” (and moving troops from Iraq to Afghanistan doesn’t really count), stops warrantless wiretapping, etc. Since I believe he has only promised to just do the first of these, I am not optimistic.

On the domestic front, his rhetoric was pleasing to the ear but not to the brain. In particular, he said something to the effect that he was going to use government smartly to make sure our economy exhibits all that a free people can produce. That’s a whopper a la Mencken’s critique of the Gettysburg Address.

Last nitpick: He said he was the 44th person to take the oath, but I think Cleveland’s non-consecutive terms mess that up. So that poses an interesting issue, of how that slight mistake got into the speech that will go down in history. I can think of at least three explanations:

(A) Obama deviated from the teleprompter. The prepared remarks said this was the 44th time a person had taken the oath, and Obama just switched it a little bit in the moment.

(B) Obama’s team knew of the Cleveland technicality, but didn’t want to confuse people, and it sounded weird to say a technically correct statement using the 44 number.

(C) No one on Obama’s team had enough of an inkling of U.S. presidential history to bother checking that the number of the presidency was the same as the number of presidents.

(A) is fine, (B) is a little worrisome but not awful, whereas (C) is scary.

And I’m betting it was (C).

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