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He got rhythm.

Seated at the conference table, flanked by guy-in-a-bow-tie (hey, buddy, the sign says ‘White House’, not ‘Barber Shop’) and baby-faced-woman with Lady-Exec hairstyle, the President is a picture of panache: Barack Obama, who doesn’t have to try….too hard.

Apparently effortlessly, he is establishing the likelihood of American air strikes against the Assad regime. Of course there are cracks to be covered, not least the anomaly of stopping to explain the effectiveness of imminent military action. Which can only have the effect of making it less than imminent, thereby reducing its effectiveness. But the way he speaks effectively conceals such flaws.

This presentation is a sit-down, low-key affair; cadences are reduced accordingly. The rhythm’s the thing. It is audible throughout the President’s remarks. We can hear it, for example, in his enunciation of the following four words:

‘The kind of attack’.

Here they are broken down to show the underlying rhythm:

The Kind-of-a Ttack. Daa da-di-da daa.

In 4/4 time, beginning on the fourth beat of the bar: Crotchet, Triplet, Crotchet, Rest.

Again: The (Crotchet)/ Kind-of-A (Triplet)/ Ttack (Crotchet)/ Rest (Crotchet).

Thus Obama’s phrase ‘the kind of attack’ is couched in rhythmic form. His words acquire their sonority from the rhythm in which they are couched. If certain phrases resonate with the public, it is because they are formulated as rhythm; because they are composed of rhythm between words as much as the words themselves.

It so happens that the phrase used above to describe Obama’s way of speaking, is similarly comprised of the exact same rhythm: ‘the rhythm’s the thing’; Daa da-di-da daa.


But the thing about rhythm is its combination of exactitude and variation. Obama’s speech pattern is four beats to the bar. Precisely. But it also sounds something like but not quite the same as the speech of previous Rhythm Kings such as Martin Luther Jnr. Who patterned the democratic aspirations of the day, who formulated the degrading experience of many into one uplifting note, so that Obama could echo that sound and evoke its democratic content 50 years later.

Except that as he evokes the sound, even as he syncopates Reverend King’s rhythms as King himself previously played with lines laid down by Abraham a.k.a. Aaabr’m Lincoln, the content is removed, discarded, negated.

So when Obama says ‘the kind of attack’, it matters little whether he is talking about the Assad regime attacking Syrian civilians, or the U.S. Air Force attacking Assad. What follows – the rest of the sentence – is largely immaterial. What precedes it – evidence, whether there is or whether there ain’t a case for causing further carnage – hardly comes into it. The substance – such as it is – is derived from the past; from the way that Obama’s speech pattern evokes a tradition of evocative rhythm.

(From an idea developed by Mark Beachill in his doctoral thesis.)