Obama’s First Inaugural

According to my lights this post is of no significance. All the hoopla surrounding Obama’s inauguration irritated me. All the reading of the tea leaves of what he would say, as if the words were more important than the deeds. All the pomp and circumstance – just like a British royal do.

I was slightly dreading the speech, because I thought that, like a melody is developed in a symphony rather than just repeated, oratory descends into bathos if the same tricks are tried too oftten.  If every speech is eloquent in the same way as the last the magician is risking showing us how he does his tricks. 

I’d also seen a you tube of Obama on the campaign whipping up the audience at the end of a speech like a bored rock star doing his schtik. After Iowa, the race speech, the nomination speech I was dreading an inaugural speech in the same register. 

I note that the commentariat has decided it wasn’t a great speech.  Well it was for me, precisely because it took the rhetoric down a notch.  It had no ‘grand theme’ or zinger – which seems just fine to me – other than ‘we have nothing to fear but fear itself’ and Lincoln’s appeal to ‘the better angels of our nature’ – single zinger inaugurals seem stupid to me.  Kennedy’s ‘ask not’ always seemed stupid to me but in an ultimately harmless way because of its meaninglessness and silliness.  Reagans ‘government is the problem’ was stupid too, but actively so – in a way that mattered, as we are now seeing. There are too many things to do, and they’re too complex for a single zinger. They are in these post-ideological times anyway. 

So Obama changed the register, and made his speech like his books.  Low key, resolute, perspicatious, requiring the auditor to pay attention and consider the phrases carefully, for if one did one found one insight after another.  An insightful president, rather than just a clever one.  What a lovely thing.  Who knows how it will all work out.  Acts matter more, but I couldn’t be more thrilled with Obama’s speech. And it’s ‘low keyness’ and its refusal to pander to what the audience expects shows that Obama wants to immitate the spirit of Lincoln, not just borrow his words.

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Richard Tsukamasa Green
Richard Tsukamasa Green(@richard-green)
12 years ago

The preponderance of “zingers” in famous speeches has often bothered me, particularly because it is cliche to complain about the death of oratory at the foot of door stop interviews and soundbites.

Yet what was memorable about so many famous speeches are just a few phrases or sentences. Sound bites!

So a speech that is not a palm sized moment with trimmings lets people down.

Niall
Niall
12 years ago

Clearly, the man has a mind and brains he uses. Not just for political purposes, but for social realism. He’s very well aware of the weight upon him. My only concern with him is the angst the right will feel when their nay-saying is proven wrong, and their focus becomes 24/7, like the news cycle.

observa
observa
12 years ago

‘I couldnt be more thrilled with Obamas speech. And its low keyness and its refusal to pander to what the audience expects’

Sweet Jesus, there was no way he or any human being could have possibly pandered to the sycophantic idolatry and fawning of the MSM and their female teen Beatlemania. Where else can their iconic ‘black’ man possibly go but hurtling down the charts from there?

‘Collective failure’ is a nice way of covering the bases for the future. After all it’s going to be a hard slog justifying handing out the battler’s dough to big finance and big govt if he bags them all now for being asleep at the wheel. Krugman likes to cherry pick big finance but Obama knows if he goes down that road he’ll start a divisive debate going back to LTCM, Fannie and Freddie and an SEC that couldn’t see Markopolous’s wood for Madoff’s trees, not to mention Fed oversight of money supply. Obama’s a smooth operator but his veiled attack on China for manipulating the yuan has hints of Hoot Smawley about it unless he’s a true market man chastising govt interference in the marketplace. Sooner or later he’ll have to make up his mind on that.

observa
observa
12 years ago

I should say ‘subsequent veiled attack on China’

derrida derider
derrida derider
12 years ago

GWB is said to be furious at that speech. And why wouldn’t he be – read it again and you see it spends a lot of time damning Bush without mentioning him by name. It was very much “you and I now have to spend a lot of time and effort getting out of this hole some idiot – no names, no pack drill – has put us in”. As The Onion’s headline said “Black man elected to worst job in world – cleaning up white man’s mess”

But yeah, it was a good speech in the circumstances – a thoughtful, non-strident one was what was called for. As for the insane expectations about Obama, well we all know the septics are a bit prone to over-the-top enthusiasms. And Obama would know that some of it is just because he’s emphatically not George W Bush, so the speech is also a shrewd bit of politics.

observa
observa
12 years ago

‘As for the insane expectations about Obama, well we all know the septics are a bit prone to over-the-top enthusiasms’
You accept that as a given but the way Oz MSM jumped on board and the EUs too by all accounts took the cake. A case of ‘save us Obamessiah’ which probably has as much to do with saving our lifestyle and super/investments as anything else. An impossible expectation by the looks of this very succinct graph http://www.econbrowser.com/archives/2008/11/investment_advi.html
There was no sense of clarity about the underlying demographic problem behind that graph and how that will impact any quick and easy cure. Until that moment of clarity is imparted to all I fear we’ll stumble along like a bad rerun of the 30s and that will be Obamah’s ultimate legacy, along with many others of his ilk.

As I said Bush, Blair and Howard were men of their times and we were all full of market testosterone and will to get the bad guys and keep them locked up in Gitmo when the sun never set on rising asset prices and tax receipts. We’re a much sorrier lot and all Keynesians now but the bad guys haven’t gone away and with 11% of Gitmo releases to date having rejoined the fight, you have to wonder about the ones they’ve kept behind bars. We’ll see if Hollywood wants to put them up.

Tel_
Tel_
12 years ago

Btw, there was one thing that pissed me off about the speech which was the bit where Obama said attributed the crisis to our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age – which is not a good explanation of the cause of the crisis and a potentially disastrous idea to put into peoples minds when trying to deal with it.

Much though I disliked almost everything about John Howard he did do a few smart things (possibly we should thank Peter Costello, but opaque Liberal Party decision making prevents us from ever knowing who to thank). For one, the Howard government didn’t commit more resources to overseas aggression than we could comfortably afford. In addition, Australian interest rates were cranked up EARLY, before we hit hard times, so Australian belts were already tightened and the ballooning debt was kept somewhat under control. Moreover, the Howard government handed a surplus over to the Rudd government giving them a lot more options for stimulus.

Obama’s stimulus is underwritten by money that really doesn’t exist, at a time when worldwide trust in the US dollar is waning and hyper-inflation of the US currency is a real possibility.

I’ll borrow a quote from this article: http://mises.org/story/3194 (no doubt Nic will take Krugman’s point of view as usual, but the economic restructuring issue remains something that Krugman studiously avoids).

… the downturn is a period of readjustment, when misallocated resources are channeled back into more appropriate lines, consistent with consumer preferences and technological realities. When the government steps in and tries to prevent this readjustment, it simply maintains an unsustainable deployment of scarce resources.

Right now, the US economy has a number of factors slanted against it. Their substantial technological lead is rapidly getting less substantial, the manufacturing industries can be done cheaper and faster in developing countries, and their great dependence on oil is costing them and will continue to cost more as the available oil runs out. The US has long been the beneficiary of hegemony in South America, providing cheap resources, this hegemony is also weakening. With the US military strained to the limit in the Middle East, suddenly countries like Venezuela are no longer afraid anymore and they are using this breathing space to build themselves up so they never need be afraid again.

There’s no doubt that a period of restructuring is going to be required. The real question is whether it is better to guide that restructuring by Central Planning (i.e. government decides which projects to inject money into) or by the Free Market (government lowers tax and steps back, to let some businesses fail and others grow up to take their place). Either way, Robert P. Murphy is completely correct that for government to lean into the wind and attempt to prevent or delay the economic restructuring that is demanded by the physical world, will only lead to less efficiency and more suffering.

Tel_
Tel_
12 years ago

The Libs got into power with a debt truck running around and Peter Costello saying that the size of the foreign debt made him white hot with anger. He then presided over a decade of making it larger. Our foreign debt will emerge as the constraint, not the budget (even though the government may behave as if it is).

They moved public debt into private hands, in keeping with their free market philosophy (one of the few things about the Liberal Party that actually supports liberty). This effectively weakens the guarantee behind that debt because a free market debtor can never offer the same strength of guarantee that a government (with the power of law and coercion) can offer. No doubt some of that money was foolishly frittered on massive CEO remuneration and overly inflated property prices, and some of those private debtors rightly deserve to go bankrupt (or make large losses). Some of the foreign creditors will go home with tears in their eyes, cursing that they ever met an Australian… and that is the normal knockabout that a free market entails. They knew the risks, they are welcome to invest elsewhere if they have a better idea, or stuff their money into their pillow for all I care.

Maybe our credit rating will drop, (I doubt it makes sense for a country as a whole to have a single credit rating anyhow, because various individuals within that country will have good ideas and bad ideas) but these international credit ratings have clearly been shown to be phony, so foreign investors will come back sooner or later. We only have to offer better terms than the guy next door.

I’d like to hope that not all of the private debt of the Howard years was wasted, surely someone invested into a worthwhile project. The M5 motorway is doing pretty well, I understand that there are foreign owners in that. Optus is mostly driven by money from Singapore and they are doing reasonably well. Yes, we over-invested in minerals and mining (with the help of some Chinese money), but Australia has always depended on mining (right back to the early gold-rush days and the founding of Ballarat), that investment will pay off eventually. I’ve seen a zinc mine built from scratch, then closed down… but the zinc is all still there, waiting for someone to offer the right price (which they will sooner or later, everything you want to build out of steel will need zinc unless you want to see it all turn to rust).

Let’s not forget that none of the people involved in the mistakes of the past had the ability to see the future. Being a government doesn’t magically give you that ability either.

Now how was it that this readjustment occurred at close to full employment, whilst other (to some extent opposite adjustments) can only occur at higher levels of unemployment?

When Mitsubishi closed their South Australian V6 engine plant back in 2004, you should have been there to tell the unemployed workers that everything was OK because guys in Perth were picking up mining jobs. Not to mention the young Australians unable to start the employment ladder because training was not available and skilled workers were being brought in from overseas and the Baby Boomers retiring so the total pool of labour was shrinking to hide the lack of job creation.

I think I’ve said before that aggregate unemployment figures hide a lot.

Here’s an article from 2004:

http://www.adelaidereview.com.au/archives/2004_11_12/issuesandopinion_story2.shtml

The article is very pro-tariff, but the unmistakable conclusion is that manufacturing was only ever viable with large scale government investment and tariff protection. He even spells it out that there has been direct government assistance going right back to WWII, and pretty much ever since. So much for bootstrapping a fledgling industry, if it isn’t viable by now, why believe it will suddenly become viable tomorrow? How many other things could all those years of government assistance have been spent on (like the long ignored issue of water management for instance)?

For a market to work at all, there must be a mechanism for a message to be sent to overstaffed unworkable industries offering encouragement for people to retrain and move elsewhere. Unemployment is one possible mechanism, low wages are another. Sometimes other signals exist. I remember when there were full page newspaper advertisements paid for by the state government telling everyone how desperately short of teachers we were and how anyone can go through a few years of training and be guaranteed to get a job. I actually know someone who did exactly that training and then discovered that the only shortage of teachers, was a shortage of teachers willing to work somewhere out past Narawhackaracker Creek, and there was actually a great surplus of teachers in the cities. Many a right minded person might ask why our taxpayers money would be spent misleading those same taxpayers, but then again, what else is the purpose of newspaper advertising? A valuable lesson in distrust, always check the money first.

jimparker
jimparker(@jimparker)
12 years ago

Obama’s inaugural was a very elegant lowballing of expectations.

At first I thought the absence of a great logline like “nothing to fear but fear itself” was a mistake but now I think about it, given the US’ gloomy hyperthyroid mediasphere, any line like would have been instantly taken out of context and used as a club across the ideological spectrum to beat others around the head.

Which is exactly what America doesn’t need right now.

Say what you like about Obama, he has perfect pitch and timing. How do you think he got the job? Whether that will be enough remains to be seen.

Parenthetically, t’will be interesting to see how fast he visibly ages in office. They all come out looking shrunken and grey. Except Ronnie who serenely floated above the hard decisions and Bill who’s basically a rubber ball.

jimparker
jimparker(@jimparker)
12 years ago

If I was writing the Obamauguarl and asked to come up with a killer summary para or two, I’d whack together up something like this.

“America is a nation built upon an idea, one so strong it gave us the moral authority to lead the rebuilding of Western civilisation after the worst war in human history. Now we need to return to that foundation to rebuild America for ourselves and our children, and for the world as the brightest light a democracy should be.

(Cue Obama relighting the Statue of Liberty torch and then parasailing down in front of the cameras)

We have done it before and we will do it again. A strong, open, confident and inspiring America has given so much to all of us. Let’s rebuild that America – day by day, dream by dream, with hard work, hope and goodwill. The future will remember us. Our children will thank us.

“Hmm, lotsa talk of building there Marty”
“Well Cookie, sounds like he’s setting the plate for a major infrastructure stimulus package.”
“Like FDR’s WPA program Marty.”
“Maybe Cookie. But here’s one important difference. FDR couldn’t dance. Let’s go to some file footage of the 44th President getting his thang on.”
“Interesting footwork there Marty. Would you call that a shuffle or a slide?”
“After these messages, back in a moment with the most incisive network political commentary happening today in your world.”

NB: Anyone who’s actually watched American broadcast TV will agree the above is not a parody.

JC
JC(@jc)
12 years ago

Anyone whos actually watched American broadcast TV will agree the above is not a parody.

You haven’t been watching CNBC? They’ve had a helicopter above Manhattan zeroing in on Bernie Madoff’s building over the past few weeks for a good part of the program US program. Nothing’s happening …..and in a small pic screen as a front drop they’re debating what’s happened to the the GDP or housing figures and what it all means with a panel of experts.

It’s the funniest thing I’ve ever seen. Andy you never see Bernie.

Tel_
Tel_
12 years ago

Its the funniest thing Ive ever seen. Andy you never see Bernie.

And these guys genuinely wonder what went wrong with their empire. Fortunately, they invented the Internet before they swallowed their own tail and started munching their way up the body.