My minor "bah humbug" on the Day the Earth Stood Still got a little attention here and over at Prawfs (a bit less so on the faculty blog), so I thought I'd follow up.
So what happened to Scrooge on Inauguration Day? Did he throw open the upper window and call on a young passerby to buy an inaugural turkey? Did he jump from his bed and proclaim it a "bright new day" and find himself to be "as merry as a school
boy ... and as ... happy as a drunken man!"
I thought Obama's speech was fine - within the broad confines of the genre. While I am sure that those who are strong Obamans thought it dazzling, it was not and perhaps intentionally so. I think he wanted to do two things. The first was to dampen expectations and the second was to emphasize the bad hand that he claims to have been dealt. Thus, the speech was hopeful but sober.
This lead to Michael Novak to call it "Burkean" in its restraint. You can find that. But you can also read it as eliding personal and collective responsibility.
As someone said, Obama's speeches are susceptible to projection because they are more about, as Hillary Clinton said, poetry than prose. Even when they are more concrete, they tend to be given to lawyerly nuance and qualifications and, of course, inaugural speeches are generally platitudinous. So I am hard pressed to come away from the speech with much of an impression, other than that then poetry was muted and not very memorable.
The election of an African American is, as I have said, a momentous event but it is one that tells us more about where we are than where we are going. In that sense, I think that Joseph Lowry's benediction - while well received by the partisans in the crowd - struck a false tone with its 60s era doggerel. I first heard that bit of folk poetry in 1970 on All In the Family and it was, I understand, a favorite of Elijah Muhammed. It may have been relevant then, it is less so today and, in fact, diverts our attention from the ways in which people may be left or fall behind today.