Work and Days


The Michigan Speech

After listening to Obama’s well-delivered Detroit speech tonight, I was struck by some reoccurring themes. He warned against those who would sow divisiveness, racial and the like, but not a word about his erstwhile pastor and purveyor of racial hatred, Rev. Wright.

He talked about old and new politics, but tore into John McCain in the old style, wrongly characterizing for the nth time McCain’s explanation that it is American casualties, not our troops’ foreign presence per se, that mostly bothers the public about Iraq—a war which Obama yet again wrote off, regardless of the amazing success of Gen. Petraeus and the Iraqi government.

In addition, he suggested that once rare natural disasters like the recent Iowa flooding are now reoccurring at 1 year and more intervals due to climate change.

Two other things struck me. Once again there was the initial warning from him about fainting during his speech, and a sort of messianic riff on why he chose to run at such a young age (e.g., because we all can’t wait any longer for his needed change). At times, he seems almost unaware of the image he conveys of self-absorption–also evident from the other night: when asked to comment on the late Tim Russert, he naturally referred to the time he, that is, Obama, interviewed Russert, rather than vice versa.

Second, at times in emphasizing a point, he will for a moment or two depart from a set speech and begin talking in his accustomed conversational style–a manner strikingly different from his usual preaching mode in which his cadence, accent, and intonation are in obvious imitation of the tradition of the African-American sermonizer.

Critics faulted Hillary for her occasional clumsy falsetto voices that were geared to particular racial and ethnic audiences. But Obama, albeit with far more elegance and panache, nevertheless switches into a delivery that is obviously patterned after a Rev. Wright, and not the natural expression, intonation, and idiom of someone who grew up in private school in Honolulu. And the nature of the audience seems to help determine the degree to which Obama delivers a speech in the style of the African-American church. So far no one has noted this, or felt it of any importance. But it is novel, if not disturbing at times to see a presidential candidate talk in conversation in one fashion, only to speak publicly in quite another–a jarring dichotomy that far exceeds the normal informal/formal pattern of private and public speech and thus borders on artifice and contrivance.

While listening to the speech, despite Obama’s praise of Hillary, I thought I heard the crowd boo at the mention of her name, especially when the Michigan governor evoked it. I think there is a tension there that is neither discussed publicly nor will abate.

A modest prediction…

Should Obama win in November, I think we will see—and should hope for— a new call for “bipartisanship” — no more filibustering, no more stalling presidential appointments in committee, no more creepy Alfred Knopf novels like Nicholson Baker’s Checkpoint, no more Michael Moore’s hit-piece documentaries about a sitting president, no more vile award-winning docu-dramas like Death of a President, no more New Republic articles with titles like, “The Case for Bush Hatred.”

No matter how controversial the Obama tenure, an ex-president Cheney (a la Gore) will not give speeches about Obama’s “brown shirts.” A conservative counterpart to Garrison Keeler should not be talking about Obama’s “brown shirts in pinstripes” and retired Senators like John Glenn surely should not be suggesting about the Obama team — “It’s the old Hitler business.” And there won’t be a black conservative who adopts the ethics of Julian Bond talking of Obama and “the Confederate swastika.”

There also won’t be a Guardian columnist like Charles Booker writing filth like the following: “The world will endure four more years of idiocy, arrogance and unwarranted bloodshed, with no benevolent deity to watch over and save us. John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, John Hinckley Jr. — where are you now that we need you?”

Instead, any such vituperative movie, novel, column, or essay in the Western public domain will rightly be dubbed a “smear” and worse, and we will hear–again, as we should– calls for collective, bipartisan condemnation.

In other words, the Left will suddenly wake up and realize that over the last eight years the country and indeed the English-speaking liberal world have done enormous damage to public discourse in reprehensibly and shamefully promulgating films, books, and essays about hating and, indeed, killing a President.

After destroying the protocols of good taste and decorum, an infantile 60s generation in their age and sobriety will now understand that they themselves (see Thucydides on Corcyra) are likewise in need of some shared standards of public expression, rightly fathoming that such easy venom weakens a free society.

Yes, the Left will suddenly adopt a new maturity about a President Obama, and responsibly demand of us all to excise from our vocabulary over the top hate speech, such as comparing an elected administration to Nazis or fantasies about killing American presidents.

And this, once again, will be as it should be–albeit eight years too late.

Another modest prediction…

I think Iraq will continue to stabilize, the Europeans will continue to sober up—about the paralysis of the EU, the dangers of Iran, the problems with immigration and demography, and post facto appreciate the US role in the world over the last 8 years in destroying thousands in al Qaeda and discrediting it in Muslim eyes. And when this is all over, at some future date, many here and abroad will say of the now despised Bush “He kept us safe.”—especially should we see an Obama presidency that abruptly leaves Iraq, calls off the war on terror in favor of writs, indictments, and subpoenas, and waits on European and UN prompts about world crises.