Friday, August 23rd, 2019

So much for "the Speech"


Remember “the Speech?” The one where the genius threw Grandma under the bus because she said things of which Obama was ashamed? Mark Steyn buries the speech, even as Senator Barack Obama retreats from, “I could no more disown him than I can disown my white grandmother.”

It was never a great speech. It was a simulacrum of a great speech written to flatter gullible pundits into hailing it as the real deal. It should be “required reading in classrooms,” said Bob Herbert in the New York Times; it was “extraordinary” and “rhetorical magic,” said Joe Klein in Time — which gets closer to the truth: As with most “magic,” it was merely a trick of redirection. Obama appeared to have made Jeremiah Wright vanish into thin air, but it turned out he was just under the heavily draped table waiting to pop up again. The speech was designed to take a very specific problem — the fact that Barack Obama, the Great Uniter, had sat in the pews of a neo-segregationist huckster for 20 years — and generalize it into some grand meditation on race in America. Senator Obama looked America in the face and said: Who ya gonna believe? My “rhetorical magic” or your lyin’ eyes?

That’s an easy choice for the swooning bobbysoxers of the media. With less impressionable types, such as voters, Senator Obama is having a tougher time. The Philly speech is emblematic of his most pressing problem: the gap — indeed, full-sized canyon — that’s opening up between the rhetorical magic and the reality. That’s the difference between a simulacrum and a genuinely great speech. The gaseous platitudes of hope and change and unity no longer seem to fit the choices of Obama’s adult life. Oddly enough, the shrewdest appraisal of the Senator’s speechifying “magic” came from Jeremiah Wright himself. “He’s a politician,” said the Reverend. “He says what he has to say as a politician… He does what politicians do.”

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