The Discerning Texan
-- Edmund Burke
Monday, June 08, 2009
Narcissism Gone Wild: "Yes We Can" becomes "Yes I Can"
Read the whole thing.
... restraint and modesty also mark the victory speech delivered in Grant Park, Chicago, on Nov. 4. The key note is struck early: “This is your victory.” When he promises, the promise is made not to the people, but on their behalf: “I promise you, we as a people will get there.” It is a short sentence, but by the end of it the self assertion of the “I” has been entirely dissipated. Repeatedly, agency and power are transferred to the audience. Change “cannot happen without you, without a new spirit of service, a new spirit of sacrifice.” And, of course, the repeated refrain, “Yes we can.”
Everything alters in the inaugural address (Jan. 20, 2009). The promises are now made to an America that is asked only to stand by while they are fulfilled. “Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. “But know America” — or, in other words, “hear me” — “…they will be met.” And later, when he says, “We will build the roads and bridges… We will restore science to its rightful place… We will harness the sun and winds,” the “we” is now the royal we: just you watch, “All this we will do.”
By the time of the address to the Congress on Feb. 24, the royal we has flowered into the naked “I”: “As soon as I took office, I asked this Congress.” “I called for action.” “I pushed for quick action.” “I have told each of my cabinet.” “I’ve appointed a proven and aggressive inspector general.” “I refuse to let that happen.” “I will not spend a single penny.” “I reject the view that says our problems will simply take care of themselves.” “I held a fiscal summit where I pledged to cut the deficit in half by the end of my first term.” That last is particularly telling: it says, there’s going to be a second term, I’m already moving fast, and if you don’t want to be left in the dust, you’d better fall in line.
There’s no mistaking what’s going on in the speech delivered last week. No preliminary niceties; just a rehearsal of Obama’s actions and expectations. Eight “I”’s right off the bat: “Just over two months ago I spoke with you… and I laid out what needed to be done.” “From the beginning I made it clear that I would not put any more tax dollars on the line.” “I refused to let those companies become permanent wards of the state.” “I refused to kick the can down the road. But I also recognized the importance of a viable auto industry.” “I decided then…” (He is really the decider.)
Accompanying the “I”’s are a bevy of “my”’s, which reach out to embrace the universe. The third time he says “my auto task force,” it sounds as if he were referring to a lap dog. Ditto the mention of Karen Mills, “my Small Business Administration” chief. When he thanks Canada and Germany for doing their part, it is as if those sovereign nations were doing him a personal favor to which he was entitled. When he invokes “my administration” you might think he was talking about some prized possession. (My daughter…my ducats.) It is always “I couldn’t in good conscience,” “I became convinced,” “I wanted to ensure,” “I instructed,” “I recognized,” “I want” (three times), “I’m calling on Congress.” At least he doesn’t say “my Congress,” although that is certainly implied.