Anatomy of a speech

obama_speechContrary to many political commentators, the subtext of Barack Obama’s inaugural speech took  a big – yet subtle – swipe at the outgoing Bush Administration. In sombre regretful tones and even at times sounding apologetic, Obama announced to the rest of the world (which was unusual in itself) that the Bush era had ended and for America, after a long and unhappy detour in the wilderness: “it was time to put away childish things … to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history”. Those last two words echo Lincoln’s “the better angels of our nature” and so helped soften the implication that the last eight years belong to the country’s worse history.

According to Jonathan Raban in The Guardian, this theme of atonement:

made its appearance at artfully calculated intervals, with Obama touching on it, departing from it, returning to it, burying it for a while and digging it up again in a way that made some critics call the speech diffuse. But it was not diffuse. It was quietly, courteously insistent on its purpose.

“On this day, we come to proclaim an end to . . . the worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics”: an end, then, to the liberal imperialism of the neoconservatives and the “Bush doctrine” of preemptive invasion. “Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and begin again the work of remaking America”: so, under the 43rd president, we have been floored and supine. The most damning censure of the Bush administration arrived exactly midway through the speech, at the nine-and-a-half minute mark:

Read that damning censure and Raban’s full anatomy of Obama’s speech in The Guardian …

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