Gerson On The Speech: “Cliched”

Michael Gerson, who authored President George W. Bush’s first and second inaugural addresses, offered on Fox News this critique of President Obama’s speech:

It is pretty amazing that this man’s presence filled that extraordinary rhetorical stage, the main rhetorical stage in American life when he is just a few years from giving speeches on the floor of the Illinois State Legislature. He has an extraordinary presence when he delivers speeches. I thought thematically it had a lot of outreach, a lot of strengths. It was part of that great tradition of American inaugurals that says we find renewal by returning to the great values, the transcendent values of our nation including responsibility and care for one another…

The surprising thing about this speech, however, is its extraordinary moments, the speech was actually quite ordinary, from a literary perspective. There were too many raging storms and gathering clouds and other things that any writer could consider cliched. I do not understand, given Obama’s literary ear in so many past speeches, how some of these things got through into an inaugural address. I think it’s a mystery.

A Fox News voice I couldn’t immediately identify agreed, adding “I kept looking for the line that I thought was going to be engraved in granite…I found precious little.”

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.