July 27, 2008


Sweet Nothings: A close reading of The Speech. (Andrew Ferguson, 08/04/2008, Weekly Standard)

[I]n the heart of Europe, before 200,000 breathless admirers, Obama pulled himself up to his full height, lifted his chin, unlimbered those eloquent hands, and said nothing at all.

Obama's "nothing" is sometimes interesting anyway; there are pointers in the vacuousness, as I saw when I read the full text on his campaign's website. He began the speech, as he often does, with a summary of his own life history, which elided into a history of the Cold War--mixing the two together, with his customary grandiosity. The history was nicely written up but not news. And the lesson he drew from it was, to be kind, idiosyncratic: The West's victory in the Cold War, he said, proved that "there is no challenge too great for a world that stands as one."

This will come as a surprise to anyone who lived through the Cold War or has even read about it. The thing about wars, even cold ones, is that the world doesn't stand as one; that's why there's a war. And in the Cold War the Soviet side was as united as the West; more so, probably. Left out of Obama's history was any mention of the ferocious demonstrations against the United States in the streets of Paris and West Berlin during the 1960s and 1980s, when American presidents were routinely depicted as priapic cowboys and psychopaths. Probably a fair number of the older members of Obama's audience had been hoisting those banners themselves 25 years ago.

So if "standing as one" didn't win the Cold War, what did? Obama didn't stop to answer, since his own reading of history seems to deny the premise of the question. Instead he hustled on to the present moment. Now, he said, "we are called upon again." To do what? Presumably to stand as one all over again, in the face of "new promise and new peril." Included in the latter are terrorism, global warming, and nuclear proliferation. But those perils aren't the worst of it. "The greatest danger of all is to allow new walls to divide us from one another."

The sentence is the heart of the speech and an instance of Obama's big weakness--his preference for the rhetorical flourish over a realistic account of things as they are. Most politicians share the weakness, and the preference has proved wildly attractive to Obama's supporters. But think it through: "New walls to divide us" is just a metaphor, a trope. A trope can't be the "greatest danger of all." A terrorist setting off a nuclear bomb in London--that's a danger. A revolution in Islamabad--that's a danger. A figure of speech is just a figure of speech.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 27, 2008 11:43 AM

Sometimes nothin' is a real cool hand, but in this case... not so much.

Posted by: Patrick H at July 27, 2008 3:56 PM

I didn't think the tour did Obama any good but everyone is jumping and down over Gallup's new poll showing Obama +9 over McCain, the largest it has shown yet. People wonder is this election will be like '76, '80, or what. Unfortunately I'm thinking '92 where a solid GOP candidate with some problems with his base loses to an inexperienced Dem whom the MSM cover for completely.

Posted by: AWW at July 27, 2008 4:43 PM

In previous elections, Gallup has been the poll most sensitive to swings of mood. Rasmussen, which is more cautious, shows a nice bounce for Obama but no larger than the one he got when HRC dropped out. I would be surprised, frankly, if Obama didn't have a double-digit lead on Labor Day and even more surprised if he has anything close to that on Election Day.

Posted by: AC at July 27, 2008 7:37 PM
blog comments powered by Disqus