Archive for the 'Barack Obama' Category

May 05 2009

The First 100 Days Are Over

100 days of Barack Obama in the Oval Office are over. But not any 100 days, the first; these are traditionally regarded as a period of grace for any new politician and are also thought to set the tone for the coming presidency. Mr. Obama took office on January 20, 2009 and has been working in the White House since. What changed so far? Is he really able to deliver the change that he promised so often during the campaign and that meant to many different things to different people? Was he successful in helping the American economy? These are the kind of questions that the media posses in these days. Mr. Obama himself flew into the American heartland, to Missouri, for his official recapitulation of his first 100 days (transcript here):

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Take a look at a New York Times “Then and Now” comparison of the first 100 days, a Guardian comment and a Guardian article looking back on the past 100 days of the Obama presidency.

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Mar 07 2009

Obama “Speaking in Tounges”

“Aren’t there by now enough articles on Obama’s rhetoric, the way he uses language and his politics on this blog?” you might wonder. Well… the answer is no – at least this one is clearly missing. It’s missing, because in her very rich paper “Speaking in Tounges“, British novilist Zadie Smith takes a very different approach to looking at the new President’s rhetoric than any of the articles so far. She takes a writer’s perspective, draws parallels to Shakespeare but also thinks about the role of race in language and discusses Mr. Obama’s ability to speak in different registers. There are too many noteworthy thoughts to quote them all, but here are two brief extracts:
Smith finds that Obama presents an astounding variety of people in his book Dreams from My Father:

Obama can do young Jewish male, black old lady from the South Side, white woman from Kansas, Kenyan elders, white Harvard nerds, black Columbia nerds, activist women, churchmen, security guards, bank tellers, and even a British man called Mr. Wilkerson [...].

Concering the use of pronouns in his speeches, she argues that

[Dream City is] the kind of town where the wise man says “I” cautiously, because “I” feels like too straight and singular a phoneme to represent the true multiplicity of his experience. Instead, citizens of Dream City prefer to use the collective pronoun “we.” Throughout his campaign Obama was careful always to say we. He was noticeably wary of “I.”  By speaking so, he wasn’t simply avoiding a singularity he didn’t feel, he was also drawing us in with him. He had the audacity to suggest that, even if you can’t see it stamped on their faces, most people come from Dream City, too. Most of us have complicated back stories, messy histories, multiple narratives.

Interestingly, George Lakoff offers, although coming from a completely different direction, somewhat similar insights into Obama’s language: both scholars emphasize the importance of empathy.

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Feb 27 2009

Obama Addresses Joint Session of Congress

President Barack Obama gave his first address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday, Feb. 24. His speech mostly dealt with the financial crisis and the gloomy economic situation of the United States and the world, but he also touched upon foreign policy issues (see full transcript).

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The theme of “empathy” that has already been visible in many of his campaign speeches reoccured in this speech, for instance when the President talked about the impact of the recession on the lifes of American citizens:

I know that for many Americans watching right now, the state of our economy is a concern that rises above all others. And rightly so. If you haven’t been personally affected by this recession, you probably know someone who has — a friend; a neighbor; a member of your family. You don’t need to hear another list of statistics to know that our economy is in crisis, because you live it every day. It’s the worry you wake up with and the source of sleepless nights. It’s the job you thought you’d retire from but now have lost; the business you built your dreams upon that’s now hanging by a thread; the college acceptance letter your child had to put back in the envelope. The impact of this recession is real, and it is everywhere.

Also, the President was very cirtical about the short-term orientation of many activities in his country. While talking about the reasons for the econimic crisis, he state that

our economy did not fall into decline overnight. Nor did all of our problems begin when the housing market collapsed or the stock market sank. We have known for decades that our survival depends on finding new sources of energy. Yet we import more oil today than ever before. The cost of health care eats up more and more of our savings each year, yet we keep delaying reform. Our children will compete for jobs in a global economy that too many of our schools do not prepare them for. And though all these challenges went unsolved, we still managed to spend more money and pile up more debt, both as individuals and through our government, than ever before.

However, the most important goal of the speech was surely to convey a feeling of determination and confidence to the American people. The President emphasized this amongst other by asserting very early on:

We will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before.

Apparently, a lot a Americans were interested in what their new President had to say – more than 52m people watched it on TV.

>> Also, check out this interactive video feature.

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