An interesting slip-up in Obama’s inauguration speech is pointed out by Harry Browne on Counterpunch.org:
…there was one largely overlooked passage that was so stupid, and so disturbing, that I may have to withdraw my standard concessionary, “Well, sure, I admit he’s obviously a smart guy with some decent instincts.”
In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted, for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame.
Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor — who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.
For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life. For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West, endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.
[…]for me its most striking phrase is the denigration, alongside the despised “faint-hearted” and fame-seekers, of “those who prefer leisure over work.”
It gets worse, a lot worse, if you follow the rest of the passage logically in terms of the contrast he has set up. The productive good guys of the next sentence, the doers and makers who brought not just prosperity but freedom – those folks clearly must have preferred work over leisure, or maybe they scored them even. And the final sentence tells us explicitly who he is talking about: farmers and settlers, sweatshop-workers and … slaves.
The idea that slaves helped build American greatness because (among other things) they preferred work to leisure is so offensively stupid that it clearly wandered into Obama’s speech via sloppiness rather than by design. (This is in itself undermines his reputation for wordcraft and attention to detail: the only reference to slavery in the inaugural speech of the first African-American president was permitted to carry this crazed logic.) Maybe we can just write it off as the sort of thing that happens when you’re absent-mindedly knitting together clichés and you drop a stitch. Nobody seems to have noticed it or taken offence anyway.
As Browne goes on to point out, who doesn’t prefer leisure over work? John Calvin has a lot to answer for in inculcating the belief that idle hands will always and everywhere occupy themselves fluffing the devil’s pillows.
Update: See, this is where we’ll end up:
After meetings with some of Japanese industry’s most important CEOs, including the heads of Sony, Nintendo, Toyota and Kendo Nagasaki, the Taoiseach said there were lessons for Ireland to learn. “You look at how efficient these businesses are and compare them to way the operate in Ireland and it’s chalk and cheese.
Here they’re cramming people onto trains with sticks so they can get to work. Half the time we’re calling in sick. Here if an employee performs badly he’ll commit Hara-kiri such is his shame at letting company down. At home they just don’t care. I think we need to take stock of ourselves and if, at first, it means we have to commit Hara-kiri on people to give them the example then I think that’s what we’ve got to do”.