Breaking new records for second-term meltdowns, Barack Obama has entered a tailspin just five months after his re-coronation, beset by a flurry of woes.
His IRS and his Justice Department are caught in huge scandals. Benghazi at last has come back to bite him. "Lead from Behind" has led to a Middle East breakdown. And at this crucial time, his speech-making talents have seemed to desert him: He went to Berlin, where John Kennedy and then Ronald Reagan thrilled hundreds of thousands during the Cold War, and bored the hell out of 5,000 or so blas? Europeans, who had no idea what he was saying, or why.
Objectively, his speech-making gifts are much greater than Reagan's, who seldom departed from the conversational tones that he learned first on radio, and much greater than Kennedy's, whose speech was a shrill, high-pitched yap that could sometimes be grating; (one of the reasons that people who heard him debate Nixon on radio later told pollsters that Nixon had won.) Yet Reagan's and Kennedy's words still can move millions, while Obama's best speeches have proved evanescent. While noted much at the time, as Lincoln did not say, they have not been long remembered. How did this happen, and why?
The master of words, and not deeds, whose words stood in for the deeds and made them superfluous, Obama rose on the phrases "Yes we can!" without explaining what it was we could do for each other, and "We are the ones we've been waiting for" without detailing exactly what it was we were waiting to do. Perhaps we were waiting to triple the deficit, because that is what happened, and a lot of people decided they hadn't been waiting for that. In fact, they hadn't been waiting for a whole lot that happened, as the president developed a penchant for elevating fringe or irrelevant issues over crises that cried to be solved. "This January," Ross Douthat wrote, "the Pew Research Center asked Americans to list their policy priorities for 2013. Huge majorities cited jobs and the economy. ... At the bottom of the list ... were gun control, immigration and climate change." Six months ahead, the public's non-priorities look like the entirety of the White House's second term agenda.
Meanwhile, nobody expects much action on the issues that Americans actually wanted Washington to solve. This is important, as speeches succeed to the extent that the speaker is in sync with the public and can address its concerns. In line with this was the decision in 2009 to put a massive health care reform bill ahead of efforts to revive the economy, creating the train wreck that's starting to happen, and the passage last week in the speech in Berlin, where, with Europe in fiscal distress and the Mideast imploding, Obama declared that climate change was the most serious menace confronting the planet -- causing most people to wonder what he was thinking, or if he was thinking at all.
Reagan and Kennedy spoke as they did because they were steeped to the gills in the creed of the founders: that rights come from God, that we are God's country, and that those who seek freedom are our charge, and our kin. This is yet a new rift between them and Obama, who thinks the U.S. may be sort of ok as a country, but freedom is often not worth the trouble it takes.
A mind is a terrible thing to waste, and so is a talent like Barack Obama's. It should have been given to someone with something more pressing to say. ?