Given that I found the president’s inaugural address kind of boring, I’m probably not the one to offer an extended exegesis. While I had sat in my futon for more than an hour following the festivities, rising only to refill my cup of coffee, I started fidgeting about three minutes into his speech, finally getting up to check my e-mail, this blog and other web-sites.
I still listened after I logged on, but did not focus as I had for the first parts of the address. The president seemed to shout the first part of the address, his tone modulating as he moved into the middle, then become more impassioned toward the end. The speech seemed rather pedestrian, neither uplifting nor inspiring. Just before a conservative friend was to pick me up to take me to Disneyland, I checked Stephen Green’s drunkblogging. That smart conservative pundit found the president sounded “the most conservative, sometimes even neoconnish, on issues of substance.”
In contrast to Steve who found neo-conservative themes in the speech, my friend had heard socialist overtones, slights against the outgoing president and threats against any who would dare oppose his initiatives.
When I returned home after a delightful day at Disney, I decided read what other bloggers had written about the speech rather than read it in its entirey, given that an Obama speech on paper (or via pixel) is much different than one as delivered.
Blogger Jay Nordlinger seemed to echo my friend’s thoughts, finding in the speech “repeated digs at Bush, his team, and those of us who supported that administration.” In a similar vein, blogress Ann Althouse found the president “rather harsh toward John McCain,” seeming to call “the previous administration childish.”
Three other bloggers (Lowry, Novak, Ponnuru) concurred with my initial evaluation that the speech was “pedestrian.” While Nordlinger and Althouse saw slaps at Bush and McCain, others thought it was a speech that could have been delivered by Bush or McCain or even Reagan.
Former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan agreed with those who thought a Republican could have delivered the address:
It was a moderate speech both in tone and content, a serious and solid speech. The young Democrat often used language with which traditional Republicans would be thoroughly at home. . . .
It was not a joyous, audacious document, not a call to arms, but a reasoned statement by a Young Sobersides.
Because we remember the great inaugural ones and forget the good and mediocre ones, we somehow assume that inaugural addresses must be great, especially given how Obama’s team promoted it in the days leading up to the inaugural, even letting it be known that they consulted former Kennedy speechwriter Ted Sorenson and historians Doris Kearns Goodwin and David McCullough.
This one did not live up to the hype. It will be counted among the great ones. Like Yuval Levin, I doubt “anyone will remember any line from it in a few weeks, let alone a generation from now.” It didn’t seem to have any unifying theme.
Just because he gave a speech that many found dull and others uninspiring doesn’t mean he won’t be a good or great president. It just means he gave a pedestrian inaugural address. Who, for example, can remember the speeches of such successful chief executives as Teddy Roosevelt, Harry S Truman or Dwight David Eisenhower?
It only partially fulfilled the hopes I’d had for it. He did a nice job of referencing the ideals and uniqueness of our nation. But, he was perfunctory (at best) in acknowledging his predecessor. Nordlinger thought the president did the “barest minimum:”
He could have done a lot more: not with more words, but with better, truer, more gracious words. Bush has certainly done a lot. For one thing, he is passing on to his successor the means with which to fight the War on Terror.
Yet, many have praised the speech, some quite effusively. When I have asked those who loved it to cite particular passages which moved them or ideas which inspired them, they fall silent. Maybe they were just inspired by the president’s delivery who, when he speaks from a prepared text, usually speaks very well. In such cases, even when he’s “saying nothing much, [he always seems to be] saying it superbly well.”
But, that’s not to say it wasn’t a good speech. I found it dull, but maybe that was because I was eager to depart for Disneyland. Yet, I do note the vastly different reactions to the speech, from some conservatives finding it socialistic to others believing the president echoed some of their own party leaders.
The consensus seems to be that it was not one of Obama’s greatest, but with widely varying views on what he meant by what he said. Perhaps, he was deliberately ambiguous. But, the reactions do seem to echo something he said in his second book, “I am new enough on the national political scene that I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views.”
Now that he’s president and must act, that novelty won’t last very long.