Tuesday, January 20, 2009


So we watched it here at work.

One of the profs nicked a television (from another prof who had squirreled it away for private viewing purposes, or so the story went) and set it up in a classroom. The picture was terrible - fuzzy and wavering and filled with lines of static that rolled steadily up the screen. Half of us had planned on sitting quietly at our own desks and tuning into one of the many sites that were streaming the whole thing but first CNN then CBS then even Hulu choked and froze up under the demand so we made our way to the classroom too, were welcomed and sat with a handful or two of students and anyone else who had heard the word.

Anyone who had been to DC had to gasp and exclaim as the camera panned slowly over the dense crowds; it was impossible to comprehend the space that we knew when it was filled that way.

So we listened, quietly mostly although Obama's little girl got a laugh with her grimace, and someone had to point out how beautiful Michelle looked. You could sense what topics were most important to people as they shifted just a little as the speech rolled on: the economy, war, health care, education, foreign policy, the ecology, eco-fuel. When it ended we thanked the prof who hosted us all, two or three people openly wiping their eyes.

An hour or so later someone outside my door mentioned that the political watchers and pundits were panning the speech, saying it didn't say anything. I asked her what they meant and, it turned out, no one had been able to pull out that one phrase, that magic handful of words that would sum it all up and make an excellent headline for tomorrow's papers. I pointed out something I learned from a biography of FDR I'm in the middle of (a biography I'm reading because I see significant parallels between these two presidents). That famous phrase, the one that most Americans know even if they don't know who said it, the phrase that came from his first inaugural address, not from the last when the world was at war, "The only thing we have to fear..." that phrase was not picked up by the people who make it their job to watch these things - it took time for the real importance of those words to emerge.

So, I respectfully disagree about the value of this particular address. I think it's clear that what we as a country and we as a world are facing is great and grave and that these things cannot be summed up in a single phrase, no matter how convenient it might be to quote and repeat.

And as for me, I'll trade a good catch phrase for substance any day.


Anonymous said...

i thought it was exactly the speech he needed to make

Mujja said...

never mind the speech all the press is interested in on this side of the pond is Michelle's frock.....IMHO.....nasty...looked like a pair of old curtains from the JFK era......the kids were sweet though!

Bagpiper said...

What's really amazing is that at noon on Jan. 20th, The leadership of America passed from Bush to Obama WITHOUT A STRUGGLE and with great humility on both sides. Political views and speech views regardless, that's an accomplishment. Sorry if I seem stiff and country-riteous, but it's true.

Megan said...

Emily - I agree. I just want to see it made practical which is going to take a heck of a lot more than one guy, even one who is so darn charismatic!

Mujja - well... okay, she was a bit upholstered! I did hear one poor woman get shouted at for suggesting that. Apparently it's not only unpatriotic (?!) but basically makes one a Dubya lover.

Bagpiper - When democracy works it really works well!