John, there was a hodgepodge-like quality to it. John Judis, hardly a right-winger, noted it too. Judis observes:
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.
Part of the problem was that much of the argument was implied; and what was implied did not ring true. Premise: America’s success in the past was based on people who “struggled and sacrificed and worked.” Conclusion: What we need now is a “new era of responsibility.” What is missing is a middle term, and what is implied is that the reason we are in trouble now is because the present generation has acted irresponsibly. Is that really at the heart of America’s difficulties at home or in the world? It has the ring of Biblical prophecy, but not of truth.
Read the whole thing as they say. But unlike our friends on the left for whom words are everything, I think conservatives have essentially given up trying to divine what President Obama will do by what he says. The latter is so opaque and so evidently designed to please multiple voices that it is not revealing of his own. That will take concrete decisions. So while we wish the words were more sharply focused and the speech more logically designed, I can’t say that it matters. What matters is what he will do when forced to make the tough choices. Perhaps less talk and more hard thinking about costs and benefits, real threats and imagined dangers, and the real content of catch-word slogans would be time well spent.