So Obama is betting on the word's enduring power as a reformer of American life. Historically he has good reason for, from the beginning, words and texts have constructed American realities, not the other way round. The spell cast on Americans by the mantle of words goes all the way back to the first Great Awakening in the 1740s when flocks thrilled to Methodist preachers such as George Whitefield. Evangelical passion remains a brilliant strand in the weave of American discourse, but when it made way for the reasoning of the enlightenment deists and unitarians who made the revolution, another element of American speech-power sounded loud and clear: the reverence for classical oratory. The Republican bet is that all this is a thing of the past; that, self-evidently, we live in the age of images, and words are just the add-ons to the beguilement of the eye; that all we have are soundbites. Obama's is the more stunning gamble; that so far from the digital age killing off the reign of the word, it has actually given logos a whole new lease of life.
Unsurprisingly my brain went 'ping!' when I realised Schama was trying to make a point about the performative and transformative powers of language. Always nice to be thrown some discourse analysis over breakfast. Even more unsurprising: the comments to the piece are almost all uniformly refusing to take up Schama's gauntlet.