Over the weekend, while my daughter slept in her stroller, I read the text of an Obama speech on my iPhone. I was struck by how clearly I could hear his voice in my head and predict where he would have put his stresses. Even after eight years of George W. Bush, I couldn’t anticipate his speaking rhythms, except to observe that he finished every sentence with either grim conviction or a wary half-smile, regardless of the content.
Obama’s inauguration speech this morning was deliberately sober, with none of the call-and-response cadence we heard on the campaign trail. It was the right choice both tonally and logistically — given the time delay to reach the back of the massive crowd, any audience chanting would have resulted in chaos.
Looking at the full text of the speech, I’m struck by something else: the punctuation.
To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West — know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.
Yes, a semicolon.
Best known to most Americans as half of a winking emoticon, this elite and misunderstood conjoiner has a friend in Obama. Yes, he’s using it as more of an oratorial pause than a semantic adhesive. And yes, this sentence likely went through several writers before its debut. But the fact our new President feels confident using it is another small cause for celebration on this very happy day.