Obama: beats January blues with lilac
More than a million people tuned in to the Whitehouse website to watch Obama’s State of the Union address tonight. The president was like a benign Santa Claus, doling out tax cuts to the middle class, and scolding naughty bankers (that’ll be coal for you guys!).
Although I’m a true fan of Obama, I could see some of the traits that the Republicans have been picking on. He started his speech by referring to history, and took us through occasions in the past when America has endured trouble. It really was a little like listening to a professor in college. (One rightwing pundit, S. E. Cupp, today criticized him as a “Harvard-educated, memoir-penning intellectual and oratorical genius” who could never be a populist — that may be, but I just don’t see much wrong with having an intelligent world leader).
The text of his speech was already online as he gave it; and I’m sure it will have been analyzed to death by morning (I’ve found this site an excellent source of analysis). But a couple of things stood out.
“I’ve been told that addressing our largest challenges is too ambitious,” he said. “I have one simple question: How long should we wait? How long should we put our future on hold? Washington has been asking us to wait for decades.”
In his 1963 Letter from Birmingham Jail Martin Luther King dealt with the issue of waiting:
“Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was ‘well timed’ in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word ‘Wait!’ It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This ‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never.’ We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that ‘justice too long delayed is justice denied.'”
Obama’s speech, of course, had lots of other rhetorical flourishes. The familiar term “hope” popped up numerous times, as well as, just once, the now-Bush-tainted word, “freedom.” And there was a poignant moment when Obama said of the famous Change: “I never suggested that change would be easy, or that I can do it alone.” He responded to attacks (on healthcare: “I take my share of the blame for not explaining it more clearly to the American people”), and admitted it’s been a difficult year.
Nancy Pelosi, sitting behind Obama alongside Joe Biden, was constantly on camera, her glossy mauve lipstick matching both her own lilac suit, and Biden’s stripy purple tie. In the audience, Michelle Obama wore a long plum skirt and plum-coloured top, reflecting the Pelosi-Biden purple pairing. Isn’t it odd to imagine them co-ordinating their outfits? [Update, Jan. 28: My friend C. reminds me that purple = red + blue which (kind of) = bipartisanship. That would be ingenious].
The speech was 71 minutes long, and the first 30 minutes, at least, went by in the blink of an eye. Forget about rhetoric and academicism. As he warmed to his subject, which he perceptibly did about 15 minutes in, Obama was an engaging, personable performer. And there was no talk of anger, as my friend S. E. Cupp had foretold (“Expect the President to announce he (suddenly) hears you. Drink every time he says the word ‘anger'”).
The conservatives can go crazy about it, and who knows what liberals will say, but to me the speech hit its mark.
It was only on re-reading Cupp’s piece that I realized the SOTU is a party event, complete with drinking games. Another American custom I found out about, too late! I watched it on my laptop, alone, at home.
*The pic comes from an LA Times politics blog.