Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Not Falling Asleep

Tantalizingly soon, the eight-year unpleasantness will pass and the new administration will take its place. As someone who appreciates a good turn of phrase, and freshly primed by Jill Lepore's fine piece on inaugural addresses past, I am wide awake, tuned in, and looking forward to hearing President Obama's speech, even knowing the variety of ways a piece of rhetoric -- let alone a highly-anticipated one -- can fail:

Economy isn’t everything. “Only the short ones are remembered,” Richard Nixon concluded, after reading all the inaugurals, an opinion that led him to say things briefly but didn’t save him from saying them badly: “The American dream does not come to those who fall asleep.” Even when Presidential inaugurals make more sense than that, they are not, on the whole, gripping. “The platitude quotient tends to be high, the rhetoric stately and self-serving, the ritual obsessive, and the surprises few,” Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., observed in 1965, and that’s still true.
True enough. Barack Obama has spent most of his life up to this morning exceeding all but impossible expectations. And of course, the end of the speech is only the beginning of the challenges. So much needs rousing.

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