25 February 2009

The quasi-State of the Union speech

I hear a lot of people bemoaning the lack of specifics in President Obama's speech last night. I find myself wondering what planet these people have been living on all their lives. Speeches like this aren't about specifics. They never have been, they never would be, and more importantly, they never should be.

First of all, President Obama (and I still get a happy thrill down my spine hearing, saying, or reading or typing that phrase) doesn't know the specifics yet. He can't, because the nature of the process is that the specifics are worked out by hours, days, weeks of discussion, argumentation, and negotiation. The specifics are discovered through back-room meetings, committee hearings, and a host of other processes to which we, the public, are not privy. They're not pronounced in 50-minute speeches to joint sessions of Congress.

Thank G-d.

For one thing, can you imagine how long the speech would have been if it had contained specifics? More than 50 minutes, I'll tell you that right now.

For another thing, nobody would want to sit through it all. No, really, you wouldn't. You think you would, but you wouldn't. Not even if President Eloquence was the one expounding it. You'd be frustrated and bored in minutes, unless you're one of the tiny, tiny handful of people who really, truly gets off on policy details.

Because, you see, the details, the specifics, for every single thing the president talked about last night are going to be hairy. Not just a few more sentences beyond what he said last night, but a few thousand pages, each. Nothing less than that is going to truly describe the scope of the problems or their solutions.

So really, there's nothing he could have added to last night's speech, and kept the speech within the bounds of reasonable speech-making time, that would make you feel like you knew much more than you do today.

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