Thursday, January 22, 2009

Apparently, An Effective Speech

Ultimately- except in rare circumstances (see "Churchill, Winston")- a speech is just a speech, at least in predicting behavior. And too much has been made, positively and negatively, about Barack Obama's speech at his inauguration (video below). Once the address ended, President Obama would do what he believes is best for the country (as modified by political expediency, as with all politicians), irrespective of the (understandable) generalities and soaring rhetoric. And it was far from the most important speech from a man who probably: would never have been given consideration for a presidential nomination without a dramatic speech in front of a national political convention(video way below); would have been left in the dust without having given a prescient speech in 2002 about the issue which became the dominant one in the party's primaries; and might have been rejected by his party's voters- had he not delivered an impressive statement (video way, way below) about an issue (race) which in recent decades virtually no one wants seriously to discuss in public.

But it must have been a good speech. I know, because the mainland Chinese have admitted it. Today's newspapers bring an article in which Anita Chang of the Associated Press writes

China censored its translation of President Obama's inauguration speech, removing references to communism and dissent, and halted state TV's live broadcast of the address when Cold War-era animosities were mentioned.

One television official tried to downplay the cutaway as a normal break in programming, while an editor with the China Daily newspaper's Web site said staff who censored online versions of the speech likely did so because they were "duty-bound to protect the country's interests."

The news channel of state broadcaster China Central Television broadcast the speech live, but appeared caught off-guard by Obama's reference to how earlier generations of Americans had "faced down fascism and communism."

Though the broadcast ended with the reference to "communism," the official translations eliminated also Obama's comment "those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent- know that you are on the wrong side of history."

Using this criterion, it's hard to judge Barack Obama's address against those of prior presidents because the piece did not indicate whether this was the first time the world's largest totalitarian state, one embarked on an unprecedented military buildup, has censored the inaugural speech of an American president. But there are worse, and less valid, standards by which to judge the power and value of a Presidential address.

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