The President gave a speech at Fort Hood yesterday. It’s not Peracles’ funeral oration, but it’s pretty damn good – it builds up nicely and reaches a climax with a line that most speechwriters would sell their first-born child for – “We need not look to the past for greatness, because it is before our very eyes.”
You can argue that he used the occasion to sell his war policy, although as no one knows what his war policy is at the moment, that particular argument is difficult to make.
Oddly enough, it’s not really the speech’s superb epideictic qualities that impress me. Rather, it’s how the speech contains such an incredible amount of ethos despite the fact that he does not mention himself at all. A lot of this comes from his constant invocation of Lincoln and Lincolnian concepts, and how he positions himself by proxy as an intellectual, ethical, and generational heir to Lincoln. Count the allusions and direct references to the themes of the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural – you’ll run out of fingers. And yet Obama adds a new perspective to the old ideas of sacrifice, honor, service, and national unity – the celebration of diversity as an empowering and indomitable force. Diversity, the word itself, is such a great example of doublespeak that it is always refreshing to see it actually demonstrated with examples rather than simply invoked.
I also like this paragraph in particular, not just for the thought, but for the rhythmical construction. Obama uses the dash, the semicolon, the parallel conjunction, and the sentence appositive to powerful effect:
It may be hard to comprehend the twisted logic that led to this tragedy. But this much we do know – no faith justifies these murderous and craven acts; no just and loving God looks upon them with favor. And for what he has done, we know that the killer will be met with justice – in this world, and the next.
A Powerpoint presentation authored by the shooter, Nidal Hasan, is circulating on the web. I prefer to link to the Post discussing it rather than to the file, as it is disturbing stuff. Obama walks a thin line here, a line that Chrisitanized Westerners walk often, as he gains little from directly linking ‘twisted logic’ to Islam in any explicit way. The word ‘faith’ as used here is a good example of strategic ambiguity; for some it will mean Islam, and for others, Chrisitianity, and for still others, other, or all, religions with explicit ethical codes.