Friday, September 05, 2008

Unsolicited Application for Speech Writer to Barack Obama

I would love to be one of Barack Obama's speech writers. It would give me some practical experience with the theoretical link between poetry and politics, the "ethical stickiness" of poetry, to use Kasey Mohammad's phrase.

I've actually got some experience already. I once rewrote Bill Clinton's inaugural address here at the Pangrammaticon, and I'd like to get this job before something similar happens to Obama's eloquence. It's less likely, so I'm not really worried, I should say. But I'd like to be part of the solution. In fact, I didn't really think I had anything to contribute until I saw this:

In this video, Obama says:

This campaign is not about Barack Obama, or Hillary Clinton, or John McCain. It's about your hopes. It's about your dreams. It's about what is possible when

a new generation of Americans stand [sic] up and say [sic]

we are not going to settle for what is, we are going to imagine what might be.

The line breaks indicate brief faltering pauses, where he seems to be looking for words. Now, it was probably ad-libbed, not read off a teleprompter and we should keep that in mind. It probably did not undermine his momemtum at the time. But here is what he should have said:

This campaign is not about Barack Obama, or Hillary Clinton, or John McCain. It's about your hopes. It's about your dreams. It's about what is possible when a generation of Americans stands up and says, "This country has to change!"

Notice what happens when the "generation of Americans" is made timeless (dropping the "new") and when its desire is expressed as an imperative demand rather than a refusal to do one thing and a promise to do another. What do you say? Do I get the job?

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thomas, I think you are making the word 'change' a tad too ubiquitous - compared to your boiled-down version I rather like the original for the frase 'imagine what might be'. It has a certain mass-market-like poetry to it, I think.
The notion of making change the key notion of a campaign reminds me of a relatively recent election in Denmark (where I live too). During which I remember thinking: is there a limit to how much you can simplify even political slogans. In the case of Denmark, I think we dipped well below that line. In the case of the original Obama, I think we don't. /Soren

Thomas Basbøll said...

Well, I like the idea that is captured in the slogan I'm proposing. Obama said something similar in his acceptance speech when he said "America, we are better than these last eight years. We are a better country than this." He might have said, "America, we have to change."

I think this is the part of the "audacity of hope" that I find compelling: that in hoping one is also, implicitly, criticizing "what is". I guess I just like for that critique to be explicit, i.e., to be valid even without the cover of hope.

That said, I think reducing politics to slogans is as worrying as you do. In this particular case, however, I think Obama muddled through a sentiment where he needed to make a statement. "What is possible when X says ..." needs to be followed by a statement. Not a measured idea.