Wednesday, January 17, 2007


Sam Smith
Since the establishment media is trying to get us to elect a man as president on the basis of one speech he gave, I thought it might be useful to go back and look at Barack Obama's 2004 talk.
Before preceding further, it should be noted that electing anyone on the basis of a speech is a dangerous way of going about politics because, in the first place, you're not necessarily voting for the person who wrote it. I have long argued that speech writers ought to be listed on the ballot alongside their candidates and if any writer gets fired or leaves, then a special election needs to be called to select a new speechwriter-enhanced politician.
But that reform is a long way off so we'll just go along with the dominant principle that anyone who gives a good speech is entitled to be president.
Unfortunately, Obama's 2004 speech wasn't all that good. One can't read it without a sense that it wasn't the all too familiar cliches that appealed to the media and voters as much as the fact that they were being delivered by a black man. What Obama did was to say absolutely nothing that a centrist white voter would find offensive or nerve troubling. Not a hint of Jackson, Sharpton, Farrakhan or King.
The speech consisted of 2341 words (including the applause credits listed in the transcript). These broke down into the following:
15% - A description of Obama's family
 7% - Standard cliches about the U.S.
10% - Standard warm and fuzzy anecdotes
16% - Words in praise of the candidate, John Kerry
 8% - Cliches about hope
15% - We're all in this together, there's nothing much to argue about
The last theme can be summed up as why can't the pro-war, anti-abortion, evolution-despising Christian evangelical and the secular, pacifist, pro-gun control gay just be friends? It is a theme that seems to be central to Obama's current plans. Yet what does Obama have to offer to resolve such conflicts. Nothing but mushy, goo-good imprecations of the sort we used to hear from our fourth grade teacher. It's actually a lot harder than that.
There was one other theme in the speech - taking 8% of the words - that was startling to rediscover: Obama was subtlety but distinctly anti-government. A sample:
"Now, don't get me wrong, the people I meet in small towns and big cities and diners and office parks, they don't expect government to solves all of their problems. They know they have to work hard to get a head. And they want to. Go into the collar counties around Chicago, and people will tell you: They don't want their tax money wasted by a welfare agency or by the Pentagon.
"Go into any inner-city neighborhood, and folks will tell you that government alone can't teach kids to learn. They know that parents have to teach, that children can't achieve unless we raise their expectations and turn off the television sets and eradicate the slander that says a black youth with a book is acting white. They know those things.
"People don't expect -- people don't expect government to solve all their problems. But they sense, deep in their bones, that with just a slight change in priorities, we can make sure that every child in America has a decent shot at life and that the doors of opportunity remain open to all. They know we can do better. And they want that choice.
So now we're going waste months in the search for a candidate who will provide "just a slight change in priorities." And that, in his own words, is precisely what Obama promises.
What Obama was doing was sending a signal to the establishment that he wouldn't cause any trouble, that he was willing to join the extremist center, that most dangerous faction of American politics - the one that starts wars, destroys the environment, and celebrates economic equality all the time bragging about how moderate it is. Besides, as Harry Truman said, "Whenever a fellow tells me he is bipartisan, I know he is going to vote against me."