Former speechwriter Michael Gerson was quick to parse President Obama's speech to the nation on Tuesday, calling it "rhetorically flat" but "quite interesting from an ideological perspective." Gerson's pen was behind President George W. Bush's inaugural addresses in 2001 and 2005, and in preparation, he studied every single presidential inaugural address in American history.
Now a columnist for the Washington Post, Gerson spoke with Christianity Today yesterday about Obama's inaugural address, religious references, and whether he thinks an evangelical should serve in the new administration.
What did you think of the inauguration?
I thought it was surprising. I came to Obama's speech in many ways expecting something that would be rhetorically masterful and maybe ideologically shallow, because of his ideological background, and we got something very different from that.
I thought it was rhetorically flat, uninteresting from a literary perspective, but quite interesting from an ideological perspective. He set out some interesting themes about political pragmatism. It was one of the strongest defenses of pragmatism against ideology in any inaugural address that I can recall. I think that his assurances on national security issues were pretty reassuring. He recognized that we're in a war and talked about defeating our enemies and talked about soft power a little bit with the fight against global poverty — I thought all those things were good. And then his closing theme of renewing America by returning to its oldest values and virtues — he used the word "virtues" — is a traditional inaugural theme, but I think a very good one.
He talked about loyalty, and duty, and responsibility, among other things, and I think that's ...