Huffpost Politics

Obama's Inaugural Address Draws Some Criticism

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Despite the historically symbolic, hope-filled aura surrounding President Obama's inauguration, not everyone gave Obama's inaugural speech glowing reviews. For example, in an interview for radio KTAR, Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ) describes Obama's inaugural address as "low brow". From KTAR:

Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl, second-ranking Republican in the Senate, was not impressed with President Barack Obama's inaugural address.

"His speech was not high-brow, it was more low-brow and a bit surprising in that regard," said the Senate Minority Whip.

Another nit-picker is former Bush speech-writer Michael Gerson, who describes Obama's speech in the Washington Post today as "cliched" and rife with platitudes. According to Gerson:

Given President Barack Obama's background, his inaugural address would have been memorable even if every word had been a Flag Day platitude. Unfortunately, too many of his words were platitudes.

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It is simply mysterious how such tired language could sound appropriate to the ear of Obama the writer. Some phrases were just strange. Recriminations have "strangled" our politics, as in some "CSI" episode. We have "tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation." Yuck, in so many ways.

Of course, reactions to Obama's address are inexorably subjective. Gerson has made a choice to lament the platitudes (which, when you really think about it, are the sine qua non of this traditionally inspirational moment). However Marc Ambinder points out that Obama is the first to ever use the word "data" and present statistics as a means for decision-making. Such invocations can hardly be viewed as overly-romantic platitudes.

National Review bloggers naturally took some shots at the speech, but they were surprisingly more ambivalent than outright negative in their response. Jay Nordlinger, who enumerates myriad thoughts here, seems somewhat incensed at what he perceives to be Obama's lack of respect for his illustrious predecessor, George Bush. Here are a few of his complaints:

I thought Obama did the minimum about Bush -- the barest minimum: "I thank him for his service," or something. He could have done a lot more: not with more words, but with better, truer, more gracious words. Bush has certainly done a lot. For one thing, he is passing on to his successor the means with which to fight the War on Terror.

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Obama talked about "restoring science to its rightful place." I thought that was a cheap, stupid shot. The opinion-makers will love it, of course.

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He suggested -- more like said -- that Bush had jettisoned American ideals in order to pursue security. That is a slander, pure and simple. Slandering your predecessor is not a good way to start a presidency.

Interestingly, those critical of Obama's speech hail not only from the right. John Judis from The New Republic professes underwhelmed disappointment, describing the speech as a "hodgepodge". According to Judis:

Barack Obama has the makings of a great orator, but his inaugural speech was not a great oration. It was well-delivered, but it consisted of a hodgepodge of themes, injunctions, and applause lines that did not speak directly to the crisis that the country faces.

The speech was unusually abstract. It lacked any reference to people or situations in the present. Obama was most vivid in describing moments long past--such as George Washington crossing the Delaware. Of course, an abstract speech can have its use if it is the service of compelling argument. But the concepts, and the argument on which the speech hung, were neither original nor compelling.

It is possible that this sense of anticlimactic disappointment was a self-fulfilling prophecy for some. Or for others, it may have resulted from the historically unprecedented hype in the weeks and days leading up to January 20th. With such a build-up, the bar was set extremely high, even for an accomplished orator like Obama.

Overall, from a quantitative perspective there seems to be more praise than criticism for Obama's inaugural address. Of course, it's impossible to please everyone -- as every individual observer has his own expectations and biases -- and the market place of ideas would hardly suffice without such reliable contrarians.