Thursday, September 24, 2009

Grading Obama's U.N. Speech

IT'S A CLASSIC RHETORICAL move. Define who who you are by articulating who you are not. At his speech before the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday, President Barack Obama made it pretty clear that he is not George W. Bush.

The President's talk, shorter than Moammar Khadaffy's and less racist than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's, not only addressed the responsibility of steering the ship of state through the gnarly waves of the present moment, it also charted the ideological course of the next three-plus years of his presidency. How did he do? If his speech were a freshman essay, what would his grade be?

In truth, his plan (or "pillars" as he calls them) looks beyond three years, in an attempt to ensure the future that "we want for our children:"

non-proliferation and disarmament; the promotion of peace and security; the preservation of our planet; and a global economy that advances opportunity for all people

I know what you're thinking--the president plagiarized George Bush! It sounds so much like the former Commander-In-Chief, Mr. Obama must have bought a speech online and passed it off as his own. Well, rest assured, I ran the text through, and it seems okay.


Who wants two Joe Biden's in the White House?

It's hard to imagine the former president believing such things, much less talking about them at the U.N. One has to wonder what the audience was thinking as they heard Mr. Obama speak. Are the two men (Obama and Bush) really as different as they appear? What must the American populace be like to have elected, back to back, such radically different souls?

I would say that the America who voted for George W. Bush is the America driven primarily by pessimism: fear of the other, concern over what some see as a deteriorating moral fabric, and secret man crushes on Karl Rove. Those who swept Mr. Obama into office are those Americans who, at least for the moment, are driven by optimism: the now over-used sense of "hope," the promise of change from the politics of pessimism, the secret comb-over envy of Joe Biden.

There is a fine line between naivete and optimism. How you see Obama will determine how you would grade his speech. If you are inclined to find him more rhetorically gifted than politically so, then you are likely to agree with The Weekly Standard's Steve Hayes who described the address as both "embarrassing" and "dangerous."

Juan Williams on the other hand, thought the speech was "terrific" because "President Obama laid out concrete steps that his administration has taken since coming into office to prove that they, in fact, want to work with the rest of the world."

I'm more inclined to agree with Williams here. Like any good essay, his speech had a thesis. Its tone was neither too lofty nor too chatty. He was funny but serious; humble but presidential. Most importantly, as Williams notes, he gave specific examples of how we wanted to construct his pillars. Or, in the parlance of writing pedagogy, he supported his thesis.

As for content, it evoked MLK (without the biblical overtones) and JFK (without the triumphalism). This spooked Charles Krauthammer, who waxed nostalgic about American rhetoric of superiority:

Obama's speech is alarming because it says the United States has no more moral right to act or to influence world history than Bangladesh or Sierra Leone.

It diminishes the United States deliberately and wants to say that we should be one nation among others, and not defend the alliance of democracies that we have in NATO, for example, or to say as every president has said before Obama that we stand for something good and unique in the world.

And so, there you have it. Arguably the dividing line among Americans in regard to Mr. Obama. Either America is morally superior and should determine policy in other countries, or . . . not.

There is a pretty well-documented track record throughout history when empires try to impose values on other cultures. So, even when both content and form are taken into account, Mr. Obama does well here. He gets an A-.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Ten Commandments of Blogging

ABOUT A YEAR AGO, the Evangelical Alliance, an evangelical Christian organization in the U.K, hit the breaking point with bad behavior among Christian bloggers. Name calling. Flaming. Death threats. Sexist and racist posts. Inappropriate jokes about Luther and Calvin.

Among Christians, you say? Impossible!

Apparently, it was so possible that the group (EAUK) published a Ten Commandments of blogging in hopes that these rules of the virtual Moses might keep the Joe Wilson of Christian blogging in line.

So, we thought in the spirit of bad blogging behavior in general, we'd look at the various ways TWR has violated these commandments:

1. You shall not put your blog before your integrity.

That ship pretty much sailed when we graded Sarah Palin's speech, wrote about MIke Huckabee and Chuck Norris, and printed anything by Greg Barnhisel.

2. You shall not make an idol of your blog.

We broke this forthwith.

3. You shall not misuse your screen name by using your anonymity to sin.

TWR always sins in public, even when we cheat.

4. Remember the Sabbath day by taking one day off a week from your blog.

Okay, we didn't break this rule. We take too many days off the way it is.

5. Honour your fellow-bloggers above yourselves and do not give undue significance to their mistakes.

We did not honor, but we did acknowledge, Stuff White People Like and their mistakes.

6. You shall not murder someone else’s honour, reputation or feelings.


7. You shall not use the web to commit or permit adultery in your mind.

Busted again!

8. You shall not steal another person’s content.

Even if it's for noble causes? Or in service to the Lord?

9. You shall not give false testimony against your fellow-blogger.

What if, as in this case, the blog sucks?

10. You shall not covet your neighbour's blog ranking. Be content with your own content.

Are you joking? TWR wouldn't envy the hits of, say, Stuff White People Like. Would it? Would it?

Friday, September 4, 2009

Fox News Leaks Draft of Obama's "Welcome Back to School Speech" -- A TWR Exclusive

BELIEVE IT OR NOT, TWR is one of the first media outlets to see a copy of the original draft of Obama's speech to America's schoolchildren. Fox News has obtained a copy of the original draft of the speech and has leaked it to selected venues.

No doubt the final version will look very different after the president's handlers get a hold of it. But, the following gives us a fair and balanced look at how our leader truly thinks:

Good day Comrade Children!

On behalf of Vice-President Biden, Secretary of State Clinton, all of my advisory staff, the Black Panthers, and lesbians who want to marry, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for looking very, very deeply and in a very relaxed manner into your tv screens or monitors.

Nothing is more important to us than the clear and malleable minds of America's youth, and nothing is more sacred than the unity of the world's workers and future voters. That's you!

You're probably wondering why I've chosen to talk to you today. It's very simple. We've come to take over the world. In fact, it's already begun. See how easy it is to disrupt the American educational system? How fun and simple to grab your attention inside the walls of your very own school? Well, we do stuff like this all the time. In fact, we've been watching you since January, and you know what, we're watching you right now! In fact, let me take this moment to offer my condolences to you, Billy Carlson, in the Rutabega County school in Iowa. Tough break about your dad. Our death panel just gave him the thumbs down.

One reason we want you to pay attention to us, to pay very, very close attention to us, is because we have removed your textbooks. That's right. You no longer will use textbooks written by people who like Jesus. Instead, you'll just read Mother Jones and posts from The Daily Kos. This way, we can feed you all of the right information.

Indeed, recent studies show standardized test scores in history have fallen over the past decade. History is very important, especially if you know how to tell it. Under my regime, we'll let you know what history is so that there will be no confusion come voting and donation time. For example, in our chapter on the two party system, the entry on Republicans describes them as rich men who hate sick people, who want to replace swing sets with oil wells, and convert every rain forest into a golf course. We also give evidence of their plot to kill Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins,

And, killing people is bad---unless of course, it's babies. But, that's part of your homework assignment for next class period. Tonight, I want you to go home, laugh at your father for not having a gun, then play this very cool liberal establishment game (compatible with both X-Box and Wii). When you're done and before you refuse to say your prayers, write a 500 word essay on why we should raise taxes to support Planned Parenthood.

As you know, the major aim of liberals as stated by its atheistic leaders more than 30 years ago, is to create a Red America, thence a Red Israel, wash it with a Red Pacific and then enslave America. It is a task for which we can claim no special credit for doing. It is one which we are obligated to perform. It is one of the tasks for which we were brought into this world and for which we were born. If we fail to use all the powers of mind and body which Marx gave us, then I am sure our mothers, wherever they are tonight, may well sorrow for the day of our birth.

Let the conservatives tremble at an Obama revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. You have a world to win.

To help you in this battle, we have removed all of the American flags from the room and replaced them with banners featuring my face surrounded by golden light and a basketball. Pledging allegiance to me will help keep you focused on the task before us. Remember: Obamaism may be summed up in the single sentence: "Abolition of private property." "From each, according to his ability; to each, according to his needs." Okay, that's two sentences, but in my school, we don't worry about fuzzy math.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Sex, Religion, and Politics: The Trinity of Submission

WE THOUGHT OUR RETURN from summer hiatus should be gentle and gradual, so we decided to focus this week's post on the most innocuous of subjects.

Actually, the topic was generated by Red Room, a San Francisco-based social networking site for writers, who sought provocative dialogue on those very topics polite conversation ignores--sex, politics, and religion. The topic and its very verbotenness both annoyed and intrigued.

A number of concepts connect sex, politics, and religion--strong belief systems, rules of transgression, long complicated histories of bad behavior, some unyieldingly bad poetry, and saddest of all, Mel Gibson movies. But, what makes these three arenas of human participation particularly powerful is the degree to which they are ultimately about submission.

We like to imagine all three as forms of proactivity, which, of course, they can be. But, really, for this triumvirate to accrue any power at all, they require us, on some level, to submit. Theirs is the world of the relinquish, the bequeath, the surrender. They ask not only that we dominate but that we be dominated. We rarely like to think in these terms about such important aspects of our lives. As Americans, we hate to think about being dominated by transcendent forces. We think it undermines our agency, our identity, our ability to control destiny.

Think, for, example of the supplicant. The beggar and the believer, the subject and the subjected. He who bows; she who is bowed to. That image fits in any of these three puzzles and perhaps explains the intense and interrelated intimacies of politics, sex, and religion. Supplicate is Latin for "kneeling down." Submission (sub-missio) is Latin for "letting down." In public, we are all about being upright, but in private, any number of things might make us drop to our knees.

This is one reason these topics are off limits. In public settings, it's uncomfortable to talk about private submissions. But, it's also the main reason they make for such good novels, compelling movies, and voyeuristic reality TV. In the lockbox of our hearts, we know we are shaped and shadowed by these concepts; in fact, almost nothing has more control over the moral contours of our lives.

And so the secret conservative, the closeted believer, the passive dominatrix all go about their lives engaged and active, prostrate and submissive, perhaps overcompensating in one area of their lives as a means of seeking equilibrium: the calm surface of life's mirrored pond.

Thing is, we know we all dive in to drown.