Obama and the Creation of Meaning
American, economy, health, every, people, plan, new, energy, education, Americans, America, recovery, also.
These were the top words used. We didn't hear as many specifics as we
might have yearned for--or as the markets this morning indicate they
were looking for--but the memes were as comforting as a warm bath after
a 10 mile hike in the snow.
Obama'a speech was rhetorically excellent,
his energetic delivery infectious, his vision sufficiently elevating to
loosen up a worried and somewhat paralyzed nation and persuade us to
consider new solutions.
not about helping banks but about helping people" was a great applause
line, striking exactly the right note even though we know in our hearts
that we are helping banks too. I perked up when he said, "The cost of healthcare keeps going up. Yet we keep delaying reform." Has
he taken on Clinton's position that we need a universal health care
plan? I dared to hope so, for incremental change won't work and Obama
has in the past tended toward the incremental fixes on this important
i doubt that Obama knows exactly what
solutions other than time will actually bring about a tipping point
toward economic recovery. But he knows he has to keep talking about it.
He knows he must keep infusing the national psyche with his signature
campaign theme of hope. In fact, the most important thing isn't the
specific words he's saying but that he's saying them, over and over,
speaking to Americans about what's weighing on us, acknowledging our
challenges and assuring us we can not just survive but thrive.
And we will. For leadership is more than anything else the creation of meaning.
At his best, Barack Obama is the master of
creating meaning the majority of Americans can relate to. From his
speech on race that rode into the wave of controversy to the
brilliant use of symbolism in this speech (for example, having Lilly
Ledbetter, the girl from South Carolina who wrote about her school,
U.S. Air pilot-hero Chesley Sullenberger in the audience), he's
striking the right balance between comforting his flock and exhorting
us to do more with less.
His Republican nemesis, House Minority
Leader John Boehner looked like he was sucking on a lemon when Obama was
going through the litany of what we've (read that "the Republicans who
were in control the last eight years") done wrong. And in the official Republican response, seemingly tone deaf Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal might have blown his big audition for the Republican party's 2012 presidential nomination. On the Political Voices of Women Livebog I participated in last night, John
Hummel summed it up well: "Rundown of the Jindal speech: I'm just like
Obama, only from a Bizarro universe where cutting taxes is the solution
to everything, where ignoring laws is what you do, where volcanoes can
monitor themselves damn it, and where Republicans were seduced by
Democrats to waste a lot of money. Now, rock on!"
Personally, I wish Obama the teacher
would articulate that his approach is what it means to be progressive
or liberal. I'd like for him to relate his higher values to being a
Democrat. His so-called postpartisan approach strikes me as
disingenious at best and harmful at worst. We have political parties because we have differing world views. That's not a bad thing. It's the essence of democracy.
But overall, this speech was stunningly
successful at creating the meaning we most need to believe in right
now: that yes we can overcome the uncertainty and take charge of our
own future. It was, to paraphrase Winston Churchill,
the end of Barack Obama's beginning as president. It remains to be seen
whether this speech will mark the beginning of the end of our economic