Reading a Reading of a Speech

One friend sent me a text this morning after Obama spoke: Amen. Another wrote: You could have done better. For my own part, I was late to campus and found the cafe where they were showing the speech packed twelve deep with more spilling out either door. I could stand at the back and crane my head over the crowd, but I couldn't catch a word. And history in the making or not, I didn't have much patience for a crowd with no words.

I skimmed Obama's - now President! - speech before class and have not gone back to it since. I intend to, at some point not now, but I have spent a couple of moments parsing Timothy Egan's response to Obama's speech. Two points stood out:

All great speeches, in their essence, are big stories, crafting an American narrative. “We tell ourselves stories in order to live,” as Joan Didion said. And to govern.

As a writer and creator of a family narrative that allowed him to live with a unique background, Obama knows this. So there was no laundry list of policies to come. And almost no mention of that most overused of personal pronouns – I.

Joan Didion, among other things, was also the one who quipped that Obama's election signalled the end of irony. [Would it be ironic to receive another text, this time from a friend in D.C., who wrote: We just booed Joe Lieberman.?]. But Egan closed his reading by writing:

There are those who wanted more poetry, more loft in the speech. They wanted to hear the eloquence of the race speech Obama gave during the campaign. Or the call to tomorrow given from the mile-high perch of the nominating convention in the Rockies.


We all look for a story to inhabit, a summons. Obama gave us that summons — “the price and promise of citizenship” – in which there will be no free rides. But also gave us the story, his very presence, the living, breathing blueprint for the new politics of possibility.

A politics of possibility. It's a good phrase, though it might be an even better ethic.


Jordan M said…
FYI: My text was actually in reference to the poem that was read. As the Daily Show said, nothing could've made the crowds clear faster.

On Obama's speech itself, the talking heads on NBC had already said that they suspected it would be a rather low key call to action outlining the hard road ahead, etc and that's exactly what he did. I think I like him more now than I did during the election bc he's actually showing a hard-working practicality and telling us that we're all involved in it too.

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