Grant Park speech aimed beneath you

The more they replay it, the more Barack Obama’s Grant Park speech comes off like bad theater. From Obama’s lips, I’m not sure the faithful have the skepticism to critique it. But his election night address may be the surest indication of what his centrism is going to look like, political communication for folks across the aisle: exposition and pandering.

“If there is anyone here … who still doubts the promise of our democracy, tonight is their answer.”

Wouldn’t that be more appropriate coming from a high school teacher, asking the class to explore the meaning of Obama’s win, sooner than have the candidate draw the conclusion for us? It’s exposition, telling the audience what you should let them figure out by your actions. When Ussain Bolt heralded his oncoming Olympic victory, it didn’t go over well either.

More than just leading us by the nose, by spelling out the election’s answer Obama made his theme dramatically smallish. Is that what his “change” meant? Regime change? Color change? MLK’s dream in the singular? Was that the mission accomplished? Renewing America’s faith in the two parties? (Forget a third?)

I still doubt. And in Obama’s centrist hyperbole I find few answers. In fact with the Grant Park speech machinations, he raises more.

If Obama underestimated the insightfulness of his audience, or did not trust where their own observations would lead them, he had their number with his last train of thought.

I’m reminded of a comedy skit in which a corporate news outlet was reviewing options for distracting their viewers from the information they were presenting. While naked, might have been one, and certainly farting while sitting in water was a hilarious alternative. Both made light of other real techniques, not the least of which, let’s be fair, is using pictures of puppies.

So Obama closed his address by painting that picture, a promise to his daughters. “You have earned the new puppy that’s coming with us to the White House.” I thought it was adorable too. Then I wondered if I’d taken my eyes off what either his right or left hand was doing.

In brief, not much. Obama was eloquent and optimistic, his points were from JFK’s inaugural, which fit the youthful, multiracial Camelot we celebrated to see gather onstage. Grant Park became a memorable pageant. There were Jesse Jackson’s tears, Oprah leaning on Joe the White Guy, Michelle’s belted Rothko dress, and a so very presidential President-Elect. What do you remember of the speech?

Democracy worked, see.
Ask not what your country can do for you.
Look folks, a puppy.

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Eric Verlo

About Eric Verlo

On sabbatical
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