David Frum nitpicks his way through an exceptionally good, realistically sobering, speech.
Listen to this:
The Cold War ended with jubilant crowds dismantling a wall. Commerce has stitched much of the world together. Billions have been lifted from poverty. The ideals of liberty, self-determination, equality and the rule of law have haltingly advanced. We are the heirs of the fortitude and foresight of generations past, and it is a legacy for which my own country is rightfully proud.
“Of generations past?” Did those “generations” not contain any names? People – Americans! – who did brave things at risk and often at cost of their lives?
The memory of the crowd dismantling the wall is a lovely one. But the great events of November 1989 could only occur because of the successful defense of the Western world over half a century by the armed power of a military alliance headed by the United States. (NB – nor did the Cold War end in November 1989. It ended almost two years later, with the dissolution of the Soviet Union.)
Notice the abstractions and passive verbs: “commerce” “have been lifted.” Unless the sentence begins with an “I”, there are no antecedents, no doers, no causes.
So what? Frum may very well be reading into this. Our failures are also described with passive verbs. "We know that," Obama said, "for most of history, this concept of just war was rarely observed. The capacity of human beings to think up new ways to kill one another proved inexhaustible." "It became clear to victor and vanquished alike," he said one paragraph down.
Before I continue, here's Frum again:
The sentence I am about to quote may well have begun as an attempt to pay tribute to another:
As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King’s life’s work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence.
But on the way to the tribute, Obama managed to insert two references to himself in a sentence that found room for only one reference of King. And there are surely ways to praise Dr King without exalting yourself even higher. As is, it seems that King is a great man because he made Obama’s career possible. One wonders: surely there must have been at least one or two other beneficiaries of King’s work as well?
He refers to himself in three notable occasions on several occasions and in each case he does not once use it to credit himself. President Barack Obama did not, as Frum suggest, claim to be the good thing the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. did. He used himself as an (not the) of what nonviolent resistance can accomplish. Mr. Obama isn't "the one" who stands as the "other beneficiaries of King's work," as Frum would have us believe. He is, and Obama specifically told us, that he is "someone" who, as Frum puts it stands as a beneficiary of King's work as well."
Words have meaning. "Someone" according to Wikipedia tells us is an indefinite pronoun hat refers to one or more unspecified beings, objects, or places. "Merriam-Webster" defines it as "some person." The Free Dictionary says it refer to two groups of people, that "unspecified" group of people noted above, or that person who thinks he is really important. Frum obviously would have us believe that Obama thinks he is really something but one must also refer to the prepositional phrase "as someone who stands here." He can, in other words testify on Martin Luther King's behalf.
Oh and by the way, he did mention some "doers." In the beginning - Schweitzer and King; Marshall and Mandela
And Towards the end - Aung Sang Suu Kyi, Richard Nixon (in his role as a peacemaker), Pope John Paul II, Lech Walesa, Ronald Reagan)