Omens for Tonight's Speech

This evening President Obama delivers his second televised address from the Oval Office. The first was on efforts to contain the BP disaster in the Gulf; this one is on the end of official combat operations in Iraq. I don't mean to prejudge what he will say (Marc Ambinder has an informed preview), but here are two preliminary notes of stage business. First, from an announcement sent yesterday to many people in the press. Click for larger -- but if the point still is not clear, look at the second shot below.


The crucial sentence, from the beginning of the second paragraph:

Truly we are! Verily, even. Let's hope the speech does better than this.

Second, after the jump a note from a reader who has been listening to the President's weekly short radio addresses and has noticed some interesting patterns. We'll be all ears tonight.

A reader writes:

Since Obama was elected, I've been listening to the President's weekly address on a regular basis for the first time ever. I've been noticing a few common tropes in his speeches, and wonder how they fit in to some of the other speechisms you've noted in the past. Some of these seem to be typical political talk, although I have not been a regular listener to previous presidents' weekly addresses. I wonder if you'd care to comment on how they compare. Maybe it's just the standard way you construct a 5- to 10-minute speech? I suppose there are transcripts out there of previous administrations' addresses, I haven't had a chance to do the research yet.

For example,

- "as we celebrate/honor/observe" the upcoming holiday
- "too many Americans" face some threat or are in some trouble
- "our opponents say" some strawman argument
- "that's why" I'm proposing a bold new initiative

Thank goodness he just ends with "thank you" instead of "God bless" etc.

I think these are mainly just stump-speech conventions for writers who need to turn out a lot of material in a hurry. But I will listen for echoes of them this evening.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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