Iowa Speeches II

Thank Fortuna someone else out there reacted to the Iowa speeches the way that I did. Here’s Hendrik Hertzberg writing for The New Yorker (“A Brave, Lonely Dissent,” 5 January 2008):

I thought that, of the three main Democratic candidates Thursday evening, Hillary Clinton gave the best speech. It was gracious, generous, properly subdued, and surprisingly selfless. Her theme was the overarching imperative that the next President be a Democrat, the implication being that this was more important than that the next President be her (or Obama or John Edwards) — a message that fits the mood of supporters of all three.

Obama’s impromptu talks, at their best, have a symphonic structure that starts quietly and builds fitfully to an emotional climax that is all the more impressive because of his own restraint — he coaxes the emotion out of his audience rather than supplying it himself. His prepared speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention, the speech that rocketed him to national fame, had a similar quality. I didn’t find that quality in the Thursday speech — not enough of it, anyway. I thought the text threw him off his usual musicality, that it dissipated some of the excitement, that it was too general, too abstract, too “speechy” — grandiose and banal at same time.

“Grandiose and banal at same time,” describes just about the entire Obama oeuvre to me. Mr. Hertzberg is aware that there is something wrong with bucking the received wisdom that Senator Obama is anything less than a generation-inspiring genius and so offers a bit of an insincere apology: “it may have been something I ate. The food in New Hampshire is not always reliable.”

Unfortunately events have shown that Senator Clinton was not so steady as she may have seemed that night.