Omens for Tonight's Speech

By James Fallows

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.

WHSpeech1.png


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

WhSpeech2.png
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.

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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.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2010/08/omens-for-tonights-speech/62284/