Excusing Obama's Forgettable Race Speech: It Was Big on YouTube

In her Sunday article on what to expect from Obama's inaugural address, reporter Katharine Seelye made excuses for the rather embarrassing fact that hardly anyone can quote a line from Obama's supposedly deathless race speech in Philadelphia, even though at the time the paper compared the "hopeful, patriotic, quintessentially American" speech to those uttered by (wait for it) Abraham Lincoln.

Seelye doesn't go quite that far, but concluded her story by excusing the collective memory loss over Obama's speech, which was (ahem) "not instantly quotable" but was nevertheless memorable "for the fact of it" and was on top of that "one of the most watched political speeches on YouTube."

Big on YouTube. Now, could Lincoln say the same thing?

From Seelye's conclusion:

Some analysts say that Mr. Obama's best speeches are not remembered for specific lines but for their power over his audience.

"Not too many of us can spin out a quick Barack Obama sound bite that we've all memorized," Mr. Widmer said. "But we all do feel mesmerized by his speeches. We do something that's completely uncharacteristic for Americans - we listen to the entire speech."

Mr. Obama's speech in March in Philadelphia on race, for instance, was not instantly quotable, but was memorable for the fact of it and praised by supporters as honest and nuanced; it was one of the most watched political speeches on YouTube.

"We all stopped to listen to him as he explained this extremely complicated, sensitive topic," Mr. Widmer said. "It was a teaching moment. He's been unusually good at that. Not all presidents are good teachers, but he has shown great potential for that."

And on Inauguration Day, many willing students will be listening.