Friday, August 29, 2008

The missing words in Obama's speech

In his speech accepting the Democratic Party nomination for emperor Thursday night, Barack Obama used the word "freedom" twice, if the text I found online is accurate.

The first came as he spoke of "America's promise" —
It's a promise that says each of us has the freedom to make of our own lives what we will, but that we also have the obligation to treat each other with dignity and respect.
Notice the structure: The promise says we are free, but. Each of the next several paragraphs gives an example of a freedom that exists but has limits established by a powerful central government. Most telling is his list of things he does not believe Americans can do for themselves:

Ours is a promise that says government cannot solve all our problems, but what it should do is that which we cannot do for ourselves - protect us from harm and provide every child a decent education; keep our water clean and our toys safe; invest in new schools and new roads and new science and technology.

We need the government to protect ourselves from harm, educate our children, invest in new science and technology? I believe a strong argument can be made that government intrusion hinders, not helps, each and every one of the things on this list.

The second and final time he mentions "freedom" came in the context of restoring a positive image of the American Empire as it pursues its vision of the world.
I will end this war in Iraq responsibly, and finish the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. I will rebuild our military to meet future conflicts. But I will also renew the tough, direct diplomacy that can prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and curb Russian aggression. I will build new partnerships to defeat the threats of the 21st century: terrorism and nuclear proliferation; poverty and genocide; climate change and disease. And I will restore our moral standing, so that America is once again that last, best hope for all who are called to the cause of freedom, who long for lives of peace, and who yearn for a better future.
A search of the text for the word "liberty" came up empty. In the 21st century, these are concepts that are subordinated to concepts like security and our obligation to the state and to the collective.

While packaging himself as something new, Obama like most every politician before him believes the force of the state can be utilized as an agent of positive change. But change effected by force can only be described as oppression.

Obama gives a good speech that feels inspiring, until you start to think about the words. Words do mean something, and sometimes much can be learned by thinking about what words are missing.

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