Inaugural Speech with Criticism and Criticism of Criticism

“Great­ness is nev­er giv­en. It must be earned.” — Barack Oba­ma

As some one who has had the occa­sion to do a lot of pub­lic speak­ing, I pay par­tic­u­lar atten­tion to speech­es, speak­ers and gen­er­al speech­mak­ing of any sort whether it be impromp­tu, the­atri­cal, extem­per­a­ne­ous or for­mal. The time for great for­mal speech­es and states­man­ship seemed to be in the past until the admit­ted­ly astound­ing rise of Barack Oba­ma, and it is good to see such renewed inter­est in speech­es from the Joe Six-Pack crowd. Yes­ter­day, in the midst of a nation­al moment of cele­breation and rejoic­ing, we heard fresh­ly sworn-in Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma’s first speech to the nation he now leads. More than just the typ­i­cal qua­dren­ni­al refresh­ing of exec­u­tive author­i­ty and dust­ing off of pomp and cir­cum­stance, this event was wide­ly antic­i­pat­ed to be a uni­fy­ing touch­stone and a lamp­light­ing of his­toric pro­por­tion.

And it was.

Ok, yeah but how was the speech?

First, Slate’s anno­tat­ed tran­script and below, the video.

And now from, the pro­fes­sion­al crit­i­cisms.  

I found William Safire’s cri­tique to be espe­cial­ly astute in the tech­ni­cal analy­sis. I even learned a new word. Anapho­ra: a rhetor­i­cal tech­nique uti­liz­ing the same open­ing phrase in sev­er­al suc­ces­sive sen­tences. He dates him­self to the era of crit­i­cal for­mal­ism by refus­ing to acknowl­edge con­text, there­by lim­it­ing the use­ful­ness of his appraisal to the tech­ni­cal. I do agree with his ass­es­ment that there was no “great theme,” but I think that using a slight­ly wider lens we can see where this speech fits in at the tail end of  the can­di­date’s theme of “hope/change” and the start of a  pres­i­den­tial theme of “change/work.” Oba­ma’s tru­ly great speech­es tend to come in the mid­dle of an effort, not the start or end — hall­marks of some­one that has think­ing more evo­lu­tion­ary than rev­o­lu­tion­ary. With that in mind look to this sum­mer for tru­ly world-chang­ing rhetoric.

Jeff Shesol then lauds the restraint dis­played, which I agree with.

While com­mend­ing the Pres­i­den­t’s aggres­sive attempt to spread the cen­ter to the “very bound­aries of the nation,” Gor­don Stew­art is put-off by the lack of specifics. But in an admin­is­tra­tion promis­ing to be the most open and trans­par­ent in his­to­ry, are impor­tant speech­es the place to elab­o­rate on pol­i­cy minu­ti­ae?

The Times also has this excel­lent inter­ac­tive page with every inau­gur­al address, with syn­op­sis and a tag cloud for each.

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