In an earlier essay, David Bromwich noted that whereas other presidents’ have been judged for their performance, Obama is unique in so far as his performance is measured mainly in terms of his oratory. Following the shootings in Tucson, Arizona, Obama garnered much praise for peroration at the memorial service. For many it was the return of the yes-we-can, inspirational preacher politician. The same style — what Bromwich calls ‘a mostly fact-free summons to a new era of striving and achievement, and a solemn cheer to raise our spirits as we try to get there’ — also carried over into his 2011 State of the Union speech (video at bottom). In this excellent piece, Bromwich — one of PULSE’s Top 10 Thinkers of 2010, and one of the most astute observers of Washington politics — once again subjects Obama to his extraordinarily perceptive analysis.
Barack Obama’s 2011 State of the Union address was an organized sprawl of good intentions—a mostly fact-free summons to a new era of striving and achievement, and a solemn cheer to raise our spirits as we try to get there. And it did not fail to celebrate the American Dream.
In short, it resembled most State of the Union addresses since Ronald Reagan’s first in 1982. Perhaps its most notable feature was an omission. With applause lines given to shunning the very idea of government spending, and a gratuitous promise to extend a freeze on domestic spending from three years to five, there was only the briefest mention of the American war in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The situation in each country was summarized and dismissed in three sentences, and the sentences took misleading care to name only enemies with familiar names: the Taliban, al-Qaeda. But these wars, too, cost money, and as surely as the lost jobs in de-industrialized cities they carry a cost in human suffering.