It's true. I'm one of the only self-proclaimed liberals I know who wasn't blown away by Obama's victory speech.
Yes, I know it was last week. Hush.
Don't get me wrong. The fact that this country elected an African-American person President? Inspiring. The sight of Jesse Jackson with tears streaming down his face? Awesome. Truly. The footage of people from all walks of life dancing and crying and screaming for joy? Beautiful.
His speech? Eh.
It's taken me this long to break down and analyze my reaction. I mean, for the last eight years the only presidential speeches I've listened to have been written by Aaron Sorkin. There was always the possibility that the problem was just that Barack Obama wasn't Josiah Bartlet.
I've come to the conclusion that that's not the problem. The problem is women and action.
Obama mentions women in three places in his speech--twice specific women and once as a group. The first time, women are in support positions--his wife and daughters, sisters, and grandmother. They are remarkable only for their relationship to him, their support. Classic "behind every good man" stuff.
The second time he mentions a woman, he talks about 106 year-old Ann Nixon Cooper. The whole discussion of Mrs. Cooper centers around what she's seen. There is no mention of what she has done. She is a witness--passive, removed. And when he goes on to speculate about what his own daughters will see if they live into the next century, he asks "what progress will we have made?" But his daughters are described, like Mrs. Cooper, as passive witnesses.
Only once does Obama describe women in an active role--when he describes the suffragists. But they are separate from women today; they are removed from today's struggles as described in Obama's speech. Women are never specifically included in his call to action. He mentions Republicans, Democrats, gays, disabled folks, African Americans, Latinos, Asians, and Native Americans. He does not include women.
I will be the first to admit that everything I know about Presidential speechwriting I learned from Toby Ziegler and Sam Seaborn on The West Wing. But I don't think that there are many accidents in a speech like this. Were women excluded deliberately? Were they originally included but then cut from the final draft? Maybe Obama and his speechwriters just didn't notice that they assigned women the same passive support roles we've been assigned since before the founding of this country.
Whatever the explanation, they missed an opportunity to inspire this woman to action. I will act, because it is not in my nature to be passive. But inspiration? Not so much.
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