In composing his inaugural speech, Barack Obama must have given himself this advice: Whatever you say, say nothing when you speak about, you know, whatever.
His oration gives the 44th president the appearance of a bucket full of eels, as vexing to pin down as a wet tomato seed on a plate.
It’s like the vaudeville skit where a comic on the phone keeps saying, “You don’t say! . . . You don’t say! . . . You don’t say!” When he hangs up, his eager straight man asks breathlessly, “What’d he say?” The punch line: “He didn’t say.”
In journalism, headlines that shout obvious inanities like “Hard Times Hardest on Poor” are known as “No s***!” heads or, put more politely, “You don’t say!” Here are an embarrassing few such vacuous profundities that pimpled Obama’s address:
“That we are in the midst of a crisis is well known.” You don’t say! “Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real, they are serious, and they are many.” You don’t say!
“Greatness is never a given. It must be earned.” You don’t say! “Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things . . . who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.” You don’t say!
“There is work to be done.” You don’t say! “The state of our economy calls for action: bold and swift.” You don’t say!
“What is required . . . is a new era of responsibility . . .” You don’t say! “This is the price and the promise of citizenship.” You don’t say!
This groaner of an inaugural address suffers on for 18 numbing minutes. On TV, Obama distracts from what he’s not saying. To plumb the depths of the address’ shallowness, one has to read it, word by excruciating word.
It’s like being stuck at a railroad crossing as boxcars rumble past. You wonder what, if anything, is inside and where, if anywhere, it’s going.
Then, in blessed relief, the last gondola of emptiness passes, the crossing gates lift and you say to yourself, “I just wasted 18 minutes out of my life.” You don’t say!
Anyone who cannot find it in his heart to celebrate the inauguration of this nation’s first black president really does need to go sit on a hillside or walk a shoreline and have a heart-to-heart with himself.
But don’t the American people, of all backgrounds, deserve better, something just a little more noble than that empty Obama address?
There’s a saying current in corporate America: “Don’t tell me what your values are. Show me what you’re doing, and I’ll tell you what your values are.”
Eliza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady,” exasperated with Henry Higgins’ artless professions of affection, scolded, “Don’t tell me. Show me!”
Surely there’s some“there” there in Obama’s substance.
Don’t say it ain’t so, Mr. President. And don’t tell us. Show us!
John L. Perry, a prize-winning newspaper editor and writer who served on White House staffs of two presidents, is a regular columnist for Newsmax.com. Read John Perry's columns here.
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