I just invoked Godwin’s Law on my own blog

» Apparently I’m the only person who wasn’t blown away by Obama’s victory speech. Don’t get me wrong, I am impressed with his use of rhetoric. But his speech was the Michael Bay summer blockbuster equivalent of oratory. It starts off slow, with some establishing shots, sucks you in with some sentimentality about Ann Nixon Cooper and then finishes with explosions and loud noises that don’t really serve any purpose except to titillate and incite a feeling of rapturous patriotism. And the speech was perfectly constructed to this end. But it was one of the most emotionally manipulative (though in a positive way) pieces of clap-trap I’d ever heard from a politician since Hitler. Who was also an amazingly stirring orator. I’m not comparing the two charismatic leaders’ politics, but I mean to draw a comparison between their ability to rouse the disgruntled, disenfranchised and dismayed masses with words, words and more beautiful exciting words and slogans. Hollywood and Madison Avenue are also adept at this. They’re usually selling something with high-concept doggerel that makes it sound inviting and exciting and just what you always needed. Obama is selling something too, his product is Change. That doesn’t mean anything is going to change other than people will actually believe in and expect Change to happen. And maybe he’ll deliver on his promise. But  how is it going to be accomplished? And at whose expense?

He’s called on Americans to expect a period of "sacrifice." This is just one of the many loaded, meaningless/meaningful words his speeches are packed with. It’s such a high-concept word that it lacks any concrete meaning in the context of his speech. "Sacrifice" can be taken many ways. Is he asking Americans to lay down their lives in empire-building wars or just to continue putting up with hard times while things get straightened out? Or does it just sound good? That is, I think, what struck me about the speech. It sounded good. It sounded perfect. It was like a Hollywood writer’s idea of the perfect presidential speech in a movie about the best, most inspiring president ever. But it was, to quote the Bard, sound and fury signifying nothing. There was no indication of what is to come or how he’s going to achieve it. Even Hitler’s speeches contained more meat and potatoes. Or a much better comparison might be FDR and JFK. There was a time when a presidential address wasn’t just full of fuzzy rhetoric, but also contained some substance. More The Times They Are A-Changing, less All You Need Is Love.

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9 Responses to I just invoked Godwin’s Law on my own blog

  1. Anonymous says:

    I think that the Americians are just glad that they finally have a leader who is articulate and who attempts to unify using the language of love. I honestly don’t think Americans can handle a leader who is as linguistically savvy as Hitler. I mean, they are just coming out from under a leadership where the leader was dumb as gum. You gotta ease the people into THAT kind of change.

  2. atrophe says:

    It did have a simularity in structure to Hitler’s speeches, as far as starting off quiet and building into a rising crescendo. But historians have notes that for ages, and many other politicians have tried to ape it. Obama’s technique probably has just as much in common with black sermons. So much so in fact that he toned it down for white audiences.

    And no one is denying it was rhetoric, or “emotionally manipulative (in a positive way)”, but that last bit is why it stood out.

    First, the american president is supposed to be a rhetorical abstract. A symbol for his country, and inspiration for his people to emulate. Second, after stumbling for decades in a rhetorical swamp of negativity manufactured and dominated by the republicans, Obama’s camp seized the moment and deflected all attacks through a campaign of non-aggression, dignity and truth. The republicans could not fight back without exposing their weaknesses. The strategy echoed that of Murrow’s expose against McCarthy, sit back and let your opponent show themselves for what they are, and it worked as both Hillary and McCain’s campaigns destroyed themselves from the inside in flailing acts of desperation.

    Consider that after two terms of Rovian politics, it was completely unbelievable on the onset that it would actually work. Especially spearheaded by a black man named BARACK HUSSEIN OBAMA. I mean its insane, throw america’s past presidents in a pile and he sticks out like a sore thumb. George, Bill, Ronald, John, BARACK?

    The important thing is that there’s now a president with a history of dedicating himself for the common good, who is well-spoken and incredibly intelligent while still being flexible, and most importantly possesses an openness to dialogue and assessing the situation before proceeding guns blazing. This is why he was backed by experts and representatives of numerous fields and political backgrounds, as opposed to Hillary and McCain who dismissed them as egghead elitists disrupting their personal visions of glory.

    And he admitted that things might not get finished within his term, probably my favourite part of his speech. His political team has conducted one of the most effective campaigns in history, and they’re certainly aware of the looming spectre of Obama being another Carter. So they are setting him up as another Roosevelt, hence any allusions to ‘sacrifice’ echoing The New Deal, instead of more misadventures in the middle east. They lack the mandate to foster the radical change most are probably hoping for, but at least there looks to be some cooperation and compromise in the future.

    Also I’m stoked as hell because the religious right have been proven irrelevant. Barring some cataclysm necessitating the rise of reactionary death cults, the republicans can only hope to survive by going back to more centrist, fiscal roots.

    Again I stress that you read this series of articles behind the campaigns (other chapters on the right, under Secrets of the 2008 Campaign), they’re quite entertaining and bring a lot to light

    • mrdapper says:

      I’m just sayin’ it was no “I have a dream” speech. Which is what I’ve heard people comparing it to. Because I think people really wanted to believe it was just that.

      I agree with you on his campaign and the abstract role of the president as a figurehead for the people to rally behind because of his ability to wield words. My point is that, perhaps due to all the Rovian bullshit, the people will rally around any old bunch of words he spits out. I’m still happy for the Americans he won, I just don’t think the speech was that great.

      • atrophe says:

        look up some of his old speeches for substance. he no longer had to sell anything with his victory speech, and I personally believe it was better to frame that evening within the context of hope for the future rather than falling back on traditional promises and pandering.

        also it can’t match King because of the context of their time in history. Bush’s legacy was disastrous, but King was challenging a threat so terrible that it ended his life.

      • mrdapper says:

        I’m talking about this speech. Not his old ones. And I’m not criticizing the man, I’m criticizing the speech writers regarding this speech.

        But you’re right, they gave the people what they wanted. Which was my point, it was a pop song for concert audience of 100,000.

        And what you say about King is exactly why I wish people wouldn’t make the comparison.

      • atrophe says:

        well we’ll wait and see what happens. some of the praise and warm biographies surrounding Obama have struck me as taking on the unsettling tone of advance obituaries

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