More on Obama’s Speech in Tucson – A Gift a la John Keats

John Keats' Tracing of Grecian Urn

The man has a gift.

He can wade through painful murk and leave a balm of clarity in his wake.  (No, he can’t change water into wine, but he sure can change whine into water.) 

Like many types of gifts, this one may not always be at Obama’s disposal.  He’s human, he gets bogged down and worn down.  But when he’s inspired, he’s inspirational.

It’s so interesting to compare Obama’s speech in Tucson with Palin’s delivered via Facebook earlier in the day.  I don’t mean here to express any particular animus towards Palin—she was speaking in a totally different context—an actual memorial service tends to bring out eloquence in a way that a home video does not.   Still, the differences are striking.  Even her calls to unity feel a bit like bludgeons—there is a defensive “or else” tone to her voice, and she seems to jump from catch phrase to catch phrase as if they were foothold rocks in a rushing steam.  (Unfortunately, some of these catch phrases, a/k/a ‘blood libel’ proved, like foothold rocks, to be a bit treacherous.)

Obama also uses age-old phrases at times—“a more perfect union”, references to Giffords’“updated version of government by the people, for the people, of the people.”   Even, I suppose, the remarks about rain puddles in heaven and the juxtaposition of the “hands over our hearts” has a certain very traditional rhetorical cleverness – but he manages to use these phrases in a way that is resonant and not catchy; he captures a kind of poetry.  This poetry not only has emotive force, but a certain rightness, the human mind (as noted by John Keats in his Ode to a Grecian Urn) seeking always to equate truth and beauty, beauty and truth.

It’s an amazing gift that Obama has, and that he gives us.

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