In a fascinating remnant of alternate history, Letters of Note unearths Nixon’s Safire-penned speech on the (possible) failure of Apollo 11. “Others will follow, and surely find their way home. Man’s search will not be denied. But these men were the first, and they will remain the foremost in our hearts.”
“Mr. Byrd…said he had no illusions that his oratory was going to change the outcome of the final vote. So why was he on the floor day after day? What was he accomplishing? ‘To me, that question misses the point, with all due respect to you for asking it,’ he said. ‘To me, the matter is there for a thousand years in the record. I stood for the Constitution. I stood for the institution. If it isn’t heard today, there’ll be some future member who will come through and will comb these tomes.‘”
Senator Robert Byrd, the longest-serving member of Congress in American history, 1917-2010. Known as a fierce defender of Senate prerogative and a legislator with a penchant for pork, Senator Byrd, we all know, held some indefensible positions in his day. But at least he got on the right side of history before his time came. Rest well, Senator.
In his commencement speech at Harvard over the weekend, former Justice David Souter lays out his judicial philosophy, and thumbs his nose at the originalists he recently sat alongside. “The meaning of facts arises elsewhere and its judicial perception turns on the experience of the judges, and on their ability to think from a point of view different from their own. Meaning comes from the capacity to see what is not in some simple, objective sense there on the printed page.” (Found by way of Politics Daily’s Andrew Cohen, who gushes about the speech here.)
Next up, of course, was Michelle Obama, who delivered a personal testimonial for her husband and his belief in “the world as it should be.” [Transcript.] To be honest, I thought some of the beats in her speech — the necessary nod to Clinton, the “this is why I love my country” bit — were a tad too deliberate. That being said, Mrs. Obama was pretty much given a thankless chore in having to smooth her edges and homogenize herself for the easy-to-swallow consumption of “the undecideds” — It’s a weird rigamarole we put our political spouses through. So, with that in mind, I thought she did a great job.
“[M]ost of the American story — from our flawed founding to the civil rights movement — has been a struggle between the purity of our ideals and the corruption of our laws and souls. The day an African American stands on the steps of the U.S. Capitol — built with the labor of slaves — and takes the oath of office will be a moment of blinding, hopeful brightness. Obama’s performance in Iowa showed that this moment is a possibility. Clinton’s stronger showing in New Hampshire showed it is not an inevitability. But in terms of raw talent and personal appeal, Obama beats Clinton hands down. And now we will see if Democrats agree. Former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson — whose work I’ve praised several times here — handicaps the Democratic race, post-New Hampshire.
Are these accusations true? Was Bush’s much-praised chief speechwriter, a seemingly self-effacing and bookish evangelical Christian, truly the Eve Harrington of the West Wing? The anecdotes have a haunting specificity.” Is Michael Gerson (whom I’ve praised here before) an inveterate blowhard, or did the strong man kick sand into Matthew Scully’s cereal? Slate‘s Tim Noah referees a dispute between two veteran GOP speechwriters over the true authorship of Dubya’s better moments.
“I am also still convinced that voters originally liked George W. Bush’s inarticulacy: At least he didn’t sound quite as smooth, and ultimately meaningless, as everyone else. Only with time did his natural-born inability to speak English begin to produce infuriating phrases of truly unique pointlessness.” Slate‘s Anne Appelbaum surveys the sad state of political rhetoric in this country, concluding that, while “the brightest new hope for the English language is Barack Obama,” “[n]o good writer, however eloquent, can possibly survive a two-year presidential campaign.” I have to agree, it is pretty bad out there. The main problem, and it’s no secret, is that most speeches today prize concepts over imagery. Read classic nineteenth-century political speeches today — Lincoln’s Second Inaugural, say, or Bryan’s Cross of Gold — and they’re flush with vivid imagery and extended metaphors. But, be it due to video killing the oratory star, the need for shorter, quicker, soundbites, or just a general fuzziness about the basic principles undergirding contemporary legislation, most speeches today languish in abstraction and platitudes. (The work of former Dubya speechwriter Michael Gerson is a notable exception in this regard.)
A quick note on Tuesday’s State of the Union: I actually think Dubya has delivered some well-crafted speeches (1/23) in the past, even if I disagree with almost all of their content. This wasn’t one of them. Except for the “America is addicted to oil” line (which Jimmy Carter basically said over 25 years ago) and the “human-animal hybrid” goofiness (which, as Crooked Timber points out, might mean trouble for diabetics), there wasn’t a single memorable moment throughout, just more of the same “9/11″ and “freedom, yeah” grandstanding. (And Kaine was no better — I like to think I’m more interested in politics than most people, and I was bored stiff after a minute or two. Nice fireplace, tho’.) If the White House was looking for this address to reverse their ailing fortunes, a la Clinton in ’98, my guess is that they failed. (Pharyngula link via Now This.)
“President Bush and his national security adviser have answered critics of the Iraq war in recent days with a two-pronged argument: that Congress saw the same intelligence the administration did before the war, and that independent commissions have determined that the administration did not misrepresent the intelligence. Neither assertion is wholly accurate.“ Update: Slate‘s Fred Kaplan parses Dubya’s speech further.
“President Bush’s speech this morning, billed as a major statement about Iraq and the war on terror, was a sad spectacle — so ripe with lofty principles, so bereft of ideas on what to do with them. He approached the podium amid growing disapproval of his performance as a war president, ratcheting chaos and violence in Iraq, continuing terrorist attacks worldwide — and pleaded for nothing more than staying the course, with no turns or shifts, for a long, long time to come.” Slate‘s Fred Kaplan surveys, and bemoans, Dubya’s “big” Iraq speech this morning.
“Our troops deserve better: they deserve leadership equal to their sacrifice.” In the NY Times, John Kerry offers some advice to Dubya on tonight’s Iraq speech. Update: That’s your speech? Terror, terror, terror, 9/11, 9/11, 9/11, all over again? Pathetic and shameful.
Ambitious Dems Congressman Harold Ford, Jr. and Governor Mark Warner try to establish their presidential bona fides by joining in on the anti-Dean pileup. I wouldn’t have used Deans’s “white christian” line — We shouldn’t be in the business of reinforcing the GOP’s hold on white Christian voters, particularly when so much of the Republicans’ bellicose, intolerant, and avarice-fueled agenda is flagrantly anti-Christian in any real sense. Today’s GOP may talk the talk of Jesus, but their leaders continually prostrate themselves before the altar of Mammon. As any good Christian knows, you can’t serve them both.
All that being said, it’s highly dismaying to watch the Dems eat their own like this. Obviously, our lazy, cowed excuse for a national newsmedia is going to leap at every possible note of intemperance to emanate from Dr. Dean, because it’s an easy story that won’t tick off the White House and doesn’t involve much in the way of reporting. So every two-bit Democratic official that wants to start generating some media buzz and moderate cred for a 2008 bid is currently mouthing off to reporters about the former Governor of Vermont.
Do Republicans do this? Not hardly. I don’t remember GOP officials rushing to lambast Bill Frist for his “against people of faith” photo-op, or Tom DeLay for all the garbage that routinely comes out of his mouth, to say nothing of all the Limbaughs, Hannitys, Coulters, etc. But one Dem uses stronger rhetoric than usual to characterize the opposition and we fall over each other to condemn him in the name of electable statesmanship. It’s pathetic. Word to the wise, Dems: Let Dean be Dean — we didn’t pick him for his social nicety — and concentrate your rhetorical firepower on the opposing trench.
By way of Ed Rants, American Rhetoric presents the “100 most significant American political speeches of the 20th century,” many of which are available as downloadable mp3s.
Well, with talk of deregulation, privatizing Social Security, tax code “simplification”, anti-gay and pro-life rhetoric, “Hollywood value” and “activist judge” hectoring…all punctuated by that off-putting and consistently out-of-place chimp smirk, you can’t say Dubya didn’t warn us about his plans for a ultra-conservative second term last night. (And for a man who was heroic enough to stop circling Nebraska and venture down to Ground Zero three long days after 9/11, he seemed amazingly ready to bolt-and-run at the sign of one measly protestor.)
Not much was said about Dubya’s first four years in office, of course, aside from 9/11 (9/11, 9/11) and the usual conflation of Al Qaeda and Saddam. But, really, what can he say? Deficits through the roof, the worst jobs record since Herbert Hoover, 1000 men and women dead in a needless diversion of a war…His administration has been an embarrassment of historic proportions. And it is time for him to go. (Dubya video via I’m Just Sayin’.)
“If you believe that government should be accountable to the people, not the people to the government, then you are a Republican.” If you believe that rich people deserve tax breaks while the middle-class struggle harder and the poor send their kids to war, then you are a Republican. If you believe that cutting First Responder, Homeland Security, and Nunn-Lugar funding, lying bald-faced to our allies before the UN, letting Osama Bin Laden disappear into the caverns of Afghanistan, and contriving a casus belli to start a war in Iraq that has further alienated the moderate Muslim world is sound anti-terror strategy, then you are a Republican. If you believe an extramarital blow job is an impeachable offense, but dissembling to the American people about war is hunky-dory, then you are a Republican. If you believe God loves you, but He hates gays, liberals, and foreigners, then you are a Republican. If you’re an immigrant bodybuilder who made it to the top of his field through hard work, discipline, and the judicious application of enough steroids to kill a small horse, then you are a Republican. And if you’re a serial groper who was befuddled enough to think Nixon was a good idea in 1968 and who somehow earnestly believes that the GOP hasn’t moved much further right since the days of Tricky Dick, then you are Arnold Schwarzenegger.
I often run cold on Will Saletan, but I thought his summary of last night’s GOP speeches was dead on. On the subtext of John McCain’s remarks: “Forget the tax cuts. Forget the outsourcing. Forget the dividend tax breaks and the estate tax repeal. Pay no attention to the hand in your pocket. Close your eyes and think of America.” On Giuliani’s fib-filled suck-up to Dubya: “[T]he most important characteristic of a great speaker — contrary to the view of my colleagues who are raving about Giuliani’s speech — is being honest. Bush wasn’t right, and Giuliani isn’t honest, and no amount of bullheadedness can make up for that.”
Whatsmore, Saletan has kept his current streak going with today’s piece on the problem with Dubya’s so-called courage: “Pardon me for asking, but where exactly is the heroism in this story? Where, indeed, is the heroism in anything Bush has done before 9/11 or since?…This is Bush’s heroism? Showing up three days later, ‘remaining in the area,’ and enduring a hug?”
In a speech before graduates of the Air Force Academy, Dubya compares the war on terror to WWII. And, a day after being called out by Dana Milbank for his straw men, Bush is at it again: “Some who call themselves realists question whether the spread of democracy in the Middle East should be any concern of ours.” Is that really the central argument being made by those dubious of our foray into Iraq? I don’t think so.
In case you missed the State of the Union address last night, this cartoon anticipated the upshot: terror, terror, terror, 9/11, 9/11, fear, fear, fear, steroids, thank you, good night, and God bless the USA. It’s wonder they didn’t pass out little bloody shirts for the Congressional GOP to wave in unison. Well, while this New York Times news analysis of the speech sounds like it was written by the Bush campaign (he “quickly turned” to domestic issues? What is Todd Purdum talking about? Dubya was blathering on about scary, scary terrorists for at least 40 minutes), I gotta think that this speech might’ve played badly to any voters out there concerned about the economy, and this year as always, it’s still the economy, stupid.
Two random and unrelated links for your perusal – First, What NYC Subway are you? (Via Fair Play and Substantial Justice.) Despite wanting to be the A-C-E or 1-9, since those are the ones I use, I kept getting the J-M-Z…Sigh.) Second, the Plumb Design Visual Thesaurus, which offers a spinning and strangely captivating wordweb for each entry you choose. It’s neat (syn.: peachy, keen, interesting, boffo…)
We’re clearly going to war, we’re giving all the old folks prescription drugs, we’re eliminating AIDS in Africa, and American taxpayers won’t have to pay a red cent. Anybody notice a problem? Dubya’s State of the Union promised a lot, including dividend goodies for the rich and flaming death to Saddam, but it didn’t say much about the actual State of the Union. At any rate, I was impressed with the AIDS initiative (although I’d be more impressed if he wasn’t getting advice from cranks like these), but otherwise didn’t think much of Dubya’s speech. I also doubt he changed anyone’s mind about the Iraq situation, but perhaps Secretary Powell’s speech next week will prove more fruitful. (Thacker link via Julian’s Jabberings.)
and make your own Bush speech. I wonder if this is the same interface they use to program the real Dubyabot.
The jihad furor at Harvard‘s graduation dies down. (The speaker, a fellow with a knack for creating controversy, will undoubtedly go far.) This weekend is also my 5-year reunion up in Cambridge, but I’m bagging it (as are most of my closest friends from the old school.) Maybe I’ll make the tenth.