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