An Army of Clichés Marching Across the Presidential Palate

Posted: Jan 21, 2009 12:01 AM

President Obama's Inaugural Address?

Clichéd, surprisingly dull, naive, and memorable only insofar as it was forgettable.

Mr. Obama's oration wasn't even the obligatory presidential jeremiad, a form that would, in this present hour, have been perfectly suited to meet the rhetorical situation. It was a schizophrenic speech that couldn't quite make up its mind whether we were in a time of peril and doom or simply suffering from national indigestion. The threadbare weather metaphors were meant to be archetypal. Instead, they were sophomoric in the extreme ("rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace" and "gathering clouds and raging storms").

As was to be expected, Mr. Obama's energetic delivery did not disappoint. In this, he stands in welcome contrast to President Bush's characteristically lackluster oratory.

Still, the speech was middling at best and a true sign of the times. It reads like a copy and paste job smattered with feel good zest.

Behold, the Google-ization of American presidential oratory hath arrived!

Yet, his Inaugural Address foreshadows what will become one of Mr. Obama's major challenges: how to meld the razzle-dazzle of his campaign oratory with the dictates of presidential rhetoric.

The grammar of presidential power and the lexicon of leadership are far different from the colloquialism of the campaign trail.

Campaigns are about contrast. Presidencies are about strong leadership.

The difference between the two requires more than a quivering cadence or a fist pounded against the lectern.

Presidential stewardship--not popularity, but stewardship--requires a sure and complete understanding of human nature as it exists, not as we wish it to be.

It requires a sober minded view of our enemies, and the lengths they will and are now going to go to leverage Mr. Obama's commitment to a "soft power" approach to unmoor the anchors of American power and stability.

It demands an understanding and, indeed, respect for the slow and intentionally cumbersome gears of governmental power.

And yet, we heard little of that in President Obama's Inaugural Address.

Instead, we heard an army of clichés marching across the new president’s palate.

The result: a phantasmagoria of naiveté.

We were promised that our new president would "harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories."

We were told that "old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace."

We were told that "our security emanates from the justness of our cause."

Really? Is that true? Does that mean that our lack of security on September 11th was a function of our national pursuit of an unjust cause? And if so, what, pray tell, was said cause? Do we really want to slog through the Ward Churchill debates yet again?

These and other rhetorical overreaches made Obama's oration an unusually unmeasured Inaugural Address.

Thankfully for Mr. Obama, the historicity of the hour, combined with his trademark delivery skills, papered over an otherwise pedestrian Inaugural Address.