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Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Posted By on Wed, Jan 21, 2009 at 4:38 PM

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The New York Times’ “Room For Debate” blog has a committee of speechwriters for five of the past seven presidents weighing in on Jon Favreau’s Starbucks-born dissertation. Estimated collective grade: B. The critics found it “uplifting,” “earnest,” “severe,” “muscular,” “deeply American” and “good.” (That last zinger coming from Carter scribe Gordon Stewart, whom we can now blame for the peanut farmer’s failed 1980 re-election bid.)


It’s amusing to hear William Safire talk about a line he wrote for Nixon, “We shall not stand pat,” that got a glare from the first lady. (“We never used that phrase again,” he says.) Safire also calls Obama’s condemnation of the Bush/Cheney ideology — a passage many found to be the speech’s bedrock section, highlighted by the staunch declaration, “We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals” — “facile.” Perhaps he’s still smarting over Frost/Nixon.


For serious history (or rhetorician) buffs, Parade has a nifty dozen-question quiz where you can attempt to guess the presidential speaker from a single quote. It’s a fun, and fairly hard, test of one’s knowledge of grammar as much as inaugurations, deriving historical context from archaic syntax and antediluvian verbs such as “beseems.” (Spoiler alert: T. Roosevelt, 1905.) 


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