Posts Tagged ‘political writing’

Essays on Obama: America the Beautiful

November 6, 2008

obamaAs I’ve posted before, regardless of one’s politics or feelings about the outcome of our 2008 Presidential election, there’s one thing that can be said about President-elect Barack Obama: the man can write.

The first sentences of his remarks on election night, as people screamed and sobbed and hugged each other, gave the inspiration that so many of his speeches have evoked:

If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.

It’s the answer told by lines that stretched around schools and churches in numbers this nation has never seen; by people who waited three hours and four hours, many for the very first time in their lives, because they believed that this time must be different; that their voice could be that difference.

It’s the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled – Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been a collection of Red States and Blue States: we are, and always will be, the United States of America.

It surprised me not one whit to be moved by his speech on election night. But what has pleasantly surprised me is how many essays I have read since Tuesday night that have equally moved me. All of the excerpts that follow invoke the same pride, inspiration, and love of country of Obama’s speeches:

The Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson, in his essay “Morning in America,” wrote:

Yet something changed on Tuesday when Americans — white, black, Latino, Asian — entrusted a black man with the power and responsibility of the presidency. I always meant it when I said the Pledge of Allegiance in school. I always meant it when I sang the national anthem at ball games and shot off fireworks on the Fourth of July. But now there’s more meaning in my expressions of patriotism, because there’s more meaning in the stirring ideals that the pledge and the anthem and the fireworks represent.

Garrison Keillor had this to say in his column for The Chicago Tribune, “Advice for the Happy Couple”:

A golden November day under a blue sky and an air of sweet amiability at the polls and at the end of the day, we elected the right guy, no doubt about it. Yes, we can and we did. A nation spread its wings and achieved altitude.

Maria Niles, in her PopConsumer blog, wrote:

My 21 year-old niece voted in her first presidential election.  She will never know a different possibility – a time when only white men could lead this country.  Where black people where considered anything less than fully and completely American even though this country was built on our backs and with our blood.  My 94 year-old grandmother, our matriarch, who has been the keeper of our family’s oral history of slavery and escape is alive to see this moment.  My cousin who traveled from the north to the south to be a freedom fighter in the civil rights movement is witnessing this history.  My mother who spent days and months volunteering and making phone calls to participate in democracy and help make history is witnessing this moment.  My father who fought for the country he chose to become a citizen of has been transformed and electrified by this campaign and he is witnessing this moment.

Perhaps Roger Cohen of The New York Times best expresses in his essay “Perfecting the Union” what I am feeling as I read these essays, as well as the words of President-elect Obama: that words matter:

America can mean what it says. It can respect its friends and probe its enemies before it tries to shock and awe them. It can listen. It can rediscover the commonwealth beyond the frenzied individualism that took down Wall Street.

I know, these are mere words. They will not right the deficit or disarm an enemy. But words count. That has been a lesson of the Bush years…

Obama will reinvest words with meaning. That is the basis of everything. And an American leader able to improvise a grammatical, even a moving, English sentence is no bad thing.

Political Writing: Raging Against the Semantic Machine

September 9, 2008

Y’know, I just haven’t been able to muster much enthusiasm for all the political rhetoric this season, even after (especially after) the DNC and RNC. It’s all “Sarah” this and “Biden” that, people having Obasms everyone – and in public, mind you. And to me, it just sounds like the teachers in the Charlie Brown television specials – “Wah-wah-wah-wah-wah.”

But I have found a new hero, and his name is Leonard Pitts, Jr. A Pulitzer Prize winning syndicated columnist for The Miami Herald, he wrote an absolute pip of a column the other day on gobbledygook and intellectual dishonesty. Pitts rails against Mitt Romney’s speech given at the RNC in St. Paul on Sept. 3, in which Romney threw out the challenge to “throw out the big-government liberals.”  According to Pitts, this is pure gobbledygook, and he responds with his own:

I mean, baffle gab on the freak flake. Really.

That is my new favorite line ever. Seriously. Say it five times and tell me that you don’t feel better.

Anyway, Pitts defines intellectual dishonesty as arguing “that which you know to be untrue” and substituting ideology for intellect “to the degree that you’ll do violence to language and logic rather than cross the party line.” Now, I’m not certain I buy Pitts’ railing against the Republicans only; to me, it seems more a bipartisan effort, with each party throwing stones at the other’s glass houses. But what I love about the column is the passion and Pitts’ dedication to calling out intellectual dishonesty. He writes that people admire the words, not daring to pull them apart to see if the message holds. But not him:

Unfortunately, some of us are too plodding and earthbound, too blind to the seduction of art, too stubbornly wedded to some vestigial notion that intellectual honesty matters, to walk past a steaming pile of bovine excreta without calling it a steaming pile of bovine excreta.

By the way, “steaming pile of bovine excreta” is my second favorite new line.

Go read the column in its entirety, and then come back here and let’s have some discussion about intellectual honesty and politics. Do you think it’s possible for politicians – particularly in a campaign year – to break free of the ideological talking points and say something true?

Baffle grab on the freak flake.

Political Writing: Obama Delivers the Goods

March 22, 2008

thmb_barack_profile.jpgSo I was quietly minding my own business this week when someone sent me a link to the text of Barack Obama’s March 18, 2008 speech, “A More Perfect Union.” A speech that came from Obama’s own pen, according to many sources. I didn’t have a chance to read it until today, and I’m glad I waited, because it was good to be able to take my time and savor the richness of the writing.

There are a multitude of websites at this point where you can watch the speech and/or read the transcript. I read the text on MSNBC’s First Read. It is truly an inspirational piece of political writing. For those who haven’t read or heard it yet, one of the main purposes of the speech was to respond to the inflammatory comments made by Obama’s pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Jr. And I thought Obama’s response was one of the most decent ways a man could respond to something like that:

As such, Reverend Wright’s comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems – two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all.

. . . As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions – the good and the bad – of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

In this response, we see Obama’s immediate but measured response to a political controversy. But the speech transcends the controversy. By juxtaposing the conflicting elements within Rev. Wright and also his own grandmother, Obama exposes and juxtaposes his own loathing of racism against the love and loyalty of family. This side-by-side comparison of conflicting elements becomes a thematic motif of his speech, explicitly stated toward the beginning of his remarks:

I chose to run for the presidency at this moment in history because I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together – unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction – towards a better future for of children and our grandchildren.

It is, quite simply, a speech that I believe will be read long after the campaigns have been forgotten, that may one day even become as iconic as Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

Final disclaimer: I am commenting solely on this as a piece of writing. Should anyone wish to steer me toward a Hillary Clinton or John McCain speech that they feel is particularly amazing, I will be happy to give them equal time.

Political Writing: Maureen Dowd Bedazzles

February 28, 2008

Every once in a while, I read an op-ed column that is so entertaining, it could stand alone as a piece of great writing, even outside the context of the current events spurring it. Maureen Dowd‘s Op-Ed column today in The New York Times, “Begrudging His Bedazzling,” is one of those columns. Regardless of one’s politics, you have to appreciate the sheer fun evidenced in the wordplay of this column, which addresses the difficult time Hillary has had countering the Obama charisma (or “Obamisma,” as I like to call it). First, Dowd runs off a string of opposites in attributes, starting with “Sunny beats gloomy.” And to her credit, I think, these attributes are utterly free of gender connotations. But where she really starts to have fun with this piece is in her characterizations of the many voices of Hillary:

After saying she found her “voice” in New Hampshire, she has turned into Sybil. We’ve had Experienced Hillary, Soft Hillary, Hard Hillary, Misty Hillary, Sarcastic Hillary, Joined-at-the-Hip-to-Bill Hillary, Her-Own-Person -Who-Just-Happens-to-Be-Married-to-a-Former-President Hillary, It’s-My-Turn Hillary, Cuddly Hillary, Let’s-Get-Down-in-the-Dirt-and-Fight-Like-Dogs Hillary.

That passage made me chortle with glee.

Now clearly, Ms. Dowd is no hack. She’s been an op-ed columnist for The New York Times since 1995 and won a Pulitzer for Distinguished Commentary in 1999. But I think she had some real fun writing this column, so for me, I’ll take her “bedazzled” and raise her a “bewitched.”