As you know, I agree with Ann Coulter, who considers Obama a singularly uninspiring orator. She thinks he’s given a pass because he’s black. I think he’s given a pass because, in our inarticulate age, he’s able to string sentences together (something, sadly, that President Bush can’t do). Take, for example, Obama’s performance in San Francisco where, says the SF Chronicle, he “dazzled” democrats. What were the dazzling lines?
According to the Chron, the first was that “We are here because the country is at a crossroads.” I’ve certainly never heard that line before in a political speech. Or, wait . . . maybe I have. There was the stirring speech that Indian Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, gave when he inaugurated the Saifee Hospital in Mumbia on June 4, 2005. On that occasion, in connection with changing healthcare in India, he said “our country stands at a peculiar crossroad of history.” And I enjoyed the exciting moment when Vitalino Canas, the Deputy to the Assembly of the Republic, State Secretary responsible for drug policy coordination (1995-2002), while speaking at the 4th International Symposium on Global Drug Policy, gave a speech entitled “Afghanistan at the crossroad.” And who can forget the thrill when, in March 2004, U.S. Representative Richard Burr (R – N.C.) told a gathering of UNC College Republicans that “Our country is at a crossroad.” It still makes me shiver when I think about it.
If I haven’t made my point, the bit about “our country is at a crossroads” has become so hackneyed that a website teaching foreign students English, in its section about the mechanics of political speeches, created a generic political speech that has, as its very first sentence, “Our country has come to a crossroad, and now you have the power to change the political landscape of America.” So far, therefore, I’m not dazzled.
And how about this rhetorical gem?
“We’ve gone through depression and world war. … We decided we were finally going to let justice roll down like waters,” he said. “When we put our minds to it, we can do it. … When we want something different, change will come.”
That’s precisely the type of platitudinous speech that old Hollywood loved to put in the mouths of generic everyman politicians who spoke to the little guy. Except for the WWII reference, can’t you just hear Jimmy Stewart saying that in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (which predated WWII)?
Oh, I’m sorry, I have to retract the preceding question. Having read the Hollywood version of a political speech, I’ve realized that Jimmy Stewart would never have said anything as banal as Obama’s little riff about change. Here is what Jimmy Stewart, as Jefferson Smith, said in his non-partisan, generic (but lovely) everyman speech:
Just get up off the ground, that’s all I ask. Get up there with that lady that’s up on top of this Capitol dome, that lady that stands for liberty. Take a look at this country through her eyes if you really want to see something. And you won’t just see scenery; you’ll see the whole parade of what Man’s carved out for himself, after centuries of fighting. Fighting for something better than just jungle law, fighting so’s he can stand on his own two feet, free and decent, like he was created, no matter what his race, color, or creed. That’s what you’d see. There’s no place out there for graft, or greed, or lies, or compromise with human liberties. And, uh, if that’s what the grownups have done with this world that was given to them, then we’d better get those boys’ camps started fast and see what the kids can do. And it’s not too late, because this country is bigger than the Taylors, or you, or me, or anything else. Great principles don’t get lost once they come to light. They’re right here; you just have to see them again!
The impressively inexperienced Obama also doesn’t just stop with calling himself the new Lincoln (a bit arrogant, wouldn’t you say?). Instead, he wants us to think of the old Clintons too. When I read the following Obama sentence, all I could think about was that dewy “Man From Hope” campaign video that Clinton’s Arkansas buddies made:
“For all the slash-and-burn politics, underneath all that, there is something that binds us together as a people that is greater than anything that divides us. That thing called hope.”
Now I recognize that I’m in a minority here, insofar as I view Obama as an insipid, unoriginal thinker who sounds more like Deepak Chopra, or maybe Oprah, than a potential leader for the most powerful nation in the world — during a time of war, yet. While I’m finding his lack of depth, originality and insight downright scary, others amongst the “dazzled” are applauding him for simplicity, and are enthusiastically comparing him to Lincoln and Kennedy:
Obama’s speech was less elaborate than Kennedy’s address, as he attempted to capture more of the simplicity and directness of Lincoln, a president whose career Obama invoked over and over as he stood in front of the Old State Capitol, where Lincoln began his political career and where he ran his 1860 presidential campaign. The parallels were deeply intentional: Lincoln went to the White House with little national political experience but with a hardened sense that many difficult measures needed to be taken to hold the Union together.
The same reporter who wrote the above was deeply impressed by Obama’s statement that “I recognize there is a certain presumptuousness — a certain audacity — to this announcement [that he intends to run for President].” I think she saw it as refreshing humility. I saw it, however, as one of the real moments of truth from someone who otherwise limits himself to platitudes: it is presumptuous, in a time of war, when someone who has almost no political or practical experience, and who has no plan about an ongoing war except for his repeated Marxian announcement that he’s “against it,” tries to finagle the American public into putting him in the White House. Presumptuous, arrogant, hubristic, and scarily likely to succeed, given the media’s infatuation with the being the collective kingmaker that puts the first black man in the White House.
I’d be delighted to see a black man in the White House one day, but not just because he’s black. That’s racist and I don’t go there. Instead, I want to see someone there because he (or she) is manifestly qualified for the job, something that I expect of any candidate. To anoint as the new Democratic messiah a guy who doesn’t have a gut when he wears his swim trunks, and can give a speech that would make Oprah proud is about as demeaning a moment in American politics as we’re likely to see in the near (or far) future.