Thursday, June 23, 2011

Truly Presidential

okay, i disliked obama's speech tonight for the same reasons many people did--i don't want the US staying in afghanistan, policing the world. i cringe at the blatant dishonesty in the phrase 'our heroic troops,' when those troops are sent there to kill.  i also don't like the fact that this diverse bunch of men and women--heroes, cowards, good, bad, complex and ambivalent as all humans are--dying or being physically and emotionally maimed. i don't like the grandiose rhetoric about america's place in the world.  everything that you've already heard from most of the liberals and progressives.

but something else struck me tonight.  maybe i've missed it in earlier speeches; or maybe this is the beginning of an interesting and disheartening symptom.  it was a dull speech.  ordinarily i expect that from a politician, and above all from a president.  somewhere there's a handbook for presidential speechwriters, with a list of mandatory expressions and a chapter on how to say nothing while pretending to say something meaningful.

but obama isn't just a politician; he's a  wordsmith.  he writes like a writer; he thinks like a writer.  he uses language gorgeously.  or at least he did. tonight he was simply another politician.  no subtle, exploring mind; no clear, meaningful language. he labeled those americans who wanted to get out of this war as 'isolationists.' not in itself a bad word--and it has at least three more syllables than his predecessor could have managed.  but it was too easy, too glib; i flashed back on lyndon johnson and his 'nervous nellies' 40 years ago.  at one point, obama spoke of the dead soldiers whose 'memory won't be forgotten.'   a stupid phrase, the phrase of a college kid who uses dramatic-sounding words without attending to their precise meanings.

i started to feel like a picky english teacher: i wanted to explain to obama how memory by definition isn't forgotten, that there was a better way to say what he was trying to get at.  again, i thought of lbj--a shrewd, perhaps brilliant man, but not an especially literate one--and how some of us would catch each other mocking his language. i remember saying to someone, 'it doesn't matter if he sounds like Li'l Abner; it's his killing people that matters.' so why was i now feeling distressed at obama's lousy diction?

but there really is a reason.  obama's eloquence, his feel for words, his ability to always find the precise  word to capture exactly his intention, were part of why he got elected.  he was a thinker, and after eight years of a clown in the white house, a thinker seemed important.

i never expected a president who had a strong capacity for morality, even while i was cheering obama's victory.  and of course he'd be fairly conservative in order to win.  in america, lefties don't get near the real political power; it's pretty amazing that we have a bernie sanders in congress. and in fairness to obama, he was honest in his campaign about his intentions with afghanistan. [not, however, with iraq, in spite of the pretense that that war is over].  but i still respected his intellect, and i hoped that would guide him in some way in his approach to politics. i thought that, to whatever extent the real power structure-- that murky combination of politicians, big money, and the military--would permit, he would retain something of the soul he seemed to have.

maybe he never had it; maybe he was just very good at playing the game.  but for all my unhappiness with his sucking up to the right and calling it 'bipartisanship,' with his lack of interest in anything really progressive, something new hit a nerve for me tonight.  it felt like he was crossing over a line from which he could never return.  i listened to those facile, cookie-cutter presidential words and watched his expressionless face.  foolish as it may sound, obvious as it should have long since been, it seemed that i was looking at someone who was in that final stage of the faustian  transition:  i was looking at a man who had sold his soul.

1 comment:

Baysage said...

I didn't watch the speech. I knew he was not going to say the only thing I was interested in hearing, that is, he was beginning an immediate drawdown of all US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and all our forces would be home by the end of the year. And while this was happening, the f--king billions of dollars we're showering on those corrupt regimes would be able to help who knows how many Americans who are out of work. All so we can make those crooks over there richer. I tell you, Karen, it's insane.