Obama At His Best

by tristero

A few comments:

1. Obama is a person who has made no bones about his religious beliefs. Yet, the video shows he is capable of taking a far wider view, an American view, that goes vastly beyond the parochial concerns of his own church.

2. His rhetoric is far from gentle. He repeats arguments we have heard from numerous angry critics of those who try to force biblical literalism into American politics, including myself. But the effect is gentle.

3. This impression is achieved primarily by his vocal inflection (and his body language). His affect is calm, but not flat. He sounds reasonable, unflappable, but very much attuned to his audience. There are no King-like pyrotechnics, either in oratory or delivery. Deliberately, he seems to throw away zinger after zinger, for example his line about how we are tired of having religion used to attack others. Imagine the effect this line would have if it were delivered in a thundering, furious voice. It would risk polarization, isolating the attackers. Instead, Obama's matter-of-fact tone - a conscious reflection of the content of the speech, namely that arguments in a democracy are advanced by reason - simply makes an assertion sound so reasonable it sounds like a self-evident fact.

4. Obama cleverly associates Dobson with Sharpton and, in the process, dissociates himself from them, and marginalizes them. We don't want Sharpton's religion making laws any more than we want Dobson's. He's also making it clear that he is a far different candidate for president than Al Sharpton was.

This is a person who knows how to hone a speech to a fine edge. His ideas are nothing new, but the organization of those ideas and the rhetorical uses to which they are put are quite new. What's extraordinary is his talent for making a speech. He has a far wider range of techniques than any politician I've heard.

Before you think I've gone all swoony on Obama, I haven't, although I am, as I've always been, very enthusiastic about him (and all the main Democratic candidates he competed against in the primary). I am concerned about how he will respond if McCain decides to rebut him in a direct fashion. We all know Obama's right, that's not the point. Rather, the question is how well can Obama defend this viewpoint in the face of withering distortions, demagogical appeals to shared Christian values, and simple ad hominem nastiness. Can he calmly explain his position after such an attack without avoiding the pitfall of a convoluted muddle of an argument? A muddle that will be portrayed as elitist because it is so subtle, reasonable, cool-headed, and fair=minded?

I"m not sure. But all that having been said, what Obama says in this video is truly refreshing to hear from a national politician. More evidence that he will make a great president. More evidence that when it comes to intelligence, eloquence, ideas, and character, Obama has no competition in the general election.

h/t PZ Myers.