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Obama is in

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As you probably all know by now, Barack Obama announced his candidacy for President today.

I just watched the announcement speech video. You can currently get to it from the abovelinked site by clicking the "Click here to watch the announcement," though it's not obvious how else to get to it; I imagine the video will soon be posted on the site's videos page but it wasn't there when I checked earlier. Unfortunately, the version of the video that's currently linked from the front page apparently works only in Windows and possibly only in IE; to view it on the Mac or with Firefox, view the QuickTime version, which is currently streaming extremely slowly, at about 1/3 realtime speed; I'm guessing the server's a little overloaded.

But the video is well worth watching if you have any interest in Obama's campaign, and/or if you have any interest in political rhetoric and speechmaking.

As most of you probably saw, there was a kerfuffle a couple weeks ago about Sen. Joe Biden's quite unfortunate phrasing in his remarks about Obama. A lot of the press focused on Biden saying that Obama was "clean," but Eugene Robinson and Shay at Booker Rising, among plenty of others, had good things to say about the perhaps even more problematic use of the word "articulate" as code for "talks like a white person"; see also "The Racial Politics of Speaking Well," in the New York Times. (On a side note, all that stuff is also tied into the question of whether Obama is "black enough", but that's not the focus of what I want to talk about here, so I'm relegating it to a parenthetical aside.)

But it occurred to me today that even in the absence of the history and connotations around that use of "articulate," the word as applied to Obama would be a massive understatement. I continue to find Obama an inspiring speaker. When I stop and look at the text of his speech, I can find things to disagree with, things that make me a little uncomfortable or dubious. (For example, the Lincoln comparison may've gone just a bit too far. And the promises were pretty vague and pretty general, like most campaign promises. And so on.) But watching him speak makes me want to go out and campaign for him.

The speech reminded me in some ways of Deval Patrick's Boston Common speech of October 15, 2006. (Patrick was, at the time, running for governor of MA; he won the election a couple weeks later.) One thing I was particularly struck by in both speeches was the emphasis on "we" and the de-emphasis on "I"; I honestly don't watch enough political speeches to know whether that's common or not, but I think it's a very effective rhetorical device. . . . One difference between the two speeches is that Patrick's speech made good use of the eminently shoutable catch phrase "Yes, We Can!"; I was hoping for a similarly crowd-friendly slogan from Obama, something a big crowd can get really into chanting. But even without that, I thought Obama's speech was really excellent.

I'm hoping Vardibidian will post some rhetorical analysis of the Obama announcement. Part of my mind was analyzing and picking apart, and being cynical, but the rest of my mind was busy being hopeful and inspired despite myself.

Also, the man has a great smile.

5 Comments

Working on it. Meanwhile, a question for your readers, or such of them as care to answer: When Barack Obama speaks of his generation, do you feel that you are included in that? And if you want to add whether you think of yourself as belonging to a named generation (that is, a Lost Generation, a Boomer, an in-between, an Xer) or not, that would be great, too. I think that question is at the heart of whether Senator Obama's rhetoric works (vaddevah works means), and I have no sense of how people of various ages view the generational thang.

Thanks,
-V.


I don't really identify with a named generation, and I usually assume that people with a lot of power and public stature (such as Senator Obama) are of an older generation than me. An exception is Senator Edwards, who looks young enough that I consider him to be of my generation.


Ditto Michael on not identifying with a named generation and on assuming people of power are older. It always startles me when I'm reminded that some prominent public figure is actually our age. (Like, say, Gavin Newsom, who's only six months older than me.)

That said, Obama isn't a whole lot older than various friends of mine who I consider to be "about my age." (Whereas Edwards is fifteen years older than me, which doesn't feel to me like it's especially close to my age.) If Obama referred to people of his generation, I wouldn't have an immediate gut "that's me!" reaction, but I would probably conclude that I was somewhere on the trailing edge of that group.

But when, in his speech, he said "Let us be the generation to do X," I didn't feel like he was talking about people his age; I felt he was talking about more or less all current adults in the US. I felt like he was saying "Let's all work together to accomplish X over the course of the next ten or twenty years" or "Let's make sure that by the time our children are grown up, X will be done." I didn't parse it that closely, so I'm trying to retroactively figure out more specifically how I interpreted the phrase, but it was something along those lines. More like "Let this be the era in which we accomplish X" than "Let people my age be the people who accomplish X." Does that make sense?


I'm with Jed on "by the time our children are grown up". Another way to think about it is that there are things that we want to happen, but we've been assuming that people who come later will do them. Presumably "people who come later" are later generations, and by saying "this generation" we say that we, the people active now, going to do those things ourselves.

At any rate, when Obama says it, I do think he means me.

I suppose I'm part of Generation X, which I've seen defined as "people who were in their 20s at some point in the 1990's", but I never think of myself that way.


Well, I've done it. It's far too long, and I'm not sure it adds much to the discussion, but it's done.

Thanks,
-V.


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