One blogger’s personal bridge to nowhere

Obama should have chosen nicer words

I do not understand whether it is bitterness, or truly hurt feelings, or an attempt at well-intentioned analysis that is prompting conservatives to rail against the “divisiveness” of Obama’s inauguration speech, but either way, the criticisms seem warrantless.  Here’s Christian Brose, of FP’s Shadow Government, quoting himself:

obamaspeechOther wording, however, struck me as almost divisive. By saying “there are some who question the scale of our ambitions” or “what the cynics fail to understand,” Obama drew lines –- those who get it and those who don’t –- when some minor editing could have bridged differences. He spoke of the economic crisis as “a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some” –- undoubtedly true, but also somewhat too accusatory for an Inaugural. So too with, “We will restore science to its rightful place.” Point taken. But why not “affirm” science or “promote” it, something positive; “restore” just has a chiding quality to it that seems out of place in a speech like this.

Why is Obama under any obligation not to be “accusatory” toward  those whose “greed and irresponsibility” undeniably — by Brose as well — drove us into financial crisis in this particular speech more than any other?  Is it because the Inauguration is supposed to be nothing more than a feel-good but let’s-forget-why-we’re happy break from reality, or that conservatives are simply taking great pleasure in hoisting Obama by his own campaign’s unity petard?  The former seems an unnecessary fiction, while the latter ascribes to conservatives a much more earnest embrace — albeit with a dagger in hand — of the “post-partisan inclusiveness” that they have hitherto seemed keen mostly on exploiting and mocking.

But what most irks me about Brose’s complaint is his quibbling over the word choice over how the Obama Administration will restore affirm do something generically positive to science.  To “affirm” or to “promote” science would be to sell it out for the cheap price of mere lip service.  I am sure that even President Bush would be eager to “affirm” or “promote” science in the abstract — but science needs more than just affirmation or promotion these days.  It needs active restoration — not only acknowledgment of its importance in general, but the importance of implementing it in U.S. policy.  This is a relevant difference, and the entire point of Obama’s specific citation of science would be washed away if he had only expressed some generic positive feeling toward science.

What Brose seems to really want — and understandably so, given his experience as a speechwriter for Republicans — is to tone down all the elements of the speech that reflected negatively on Bush et al.  But Obama does need to shy away from speaking truths simply because he is president (contrary to the contrary lesson that one might take from era of WMD-esque folly).  If some of his words were “chiding,” it is because too much of the past eight years warrants chiding.

(image from flickr user Muhammad Adnan Asim ( linkadnan ) # 2 under a Creative Commons license)

January 22, 2009 - Posted by | Conservatives, U.S. politics | , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. There’s also a more poetic aural quality to the word “restore” versus “promote” or “affirm”. That’s why Obama’s speeches are like poetry in prose, because he and his speechwriters recognize these things–while also delivering a more potent message, as our blogger points out.

    Comment by Kenny B. | January 23, 2009 | Reply

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