Last night’s speech may well have been the first Barack Obama delivered which put forward a policy better than the delivery of the speech itself. Generally, his words soar above the standard liberal policies he proposes. Last night, his words, save for a few passages, obscured the policy he was poromoting.
The speaker seemed cold, not connecting with his audience. The delivery was stale, if rushed at times. The rhetoric mundane, the organization lacking. The speech had no theme and had, as Jim Geraghty put it, a kind of “kitchen sink quality to” it. The President put in far more than was necessary to make his point.
At times, it seemed he was going through the motions, speaking without conviction, saying what he had to say. He was merely dispensing with an obligation to which he needed to attend before moving out, what were to him, more pressing matters. He wanted to get this over with.
I’m sorry, Mr. President, this is the most pressing matter. And on the whole, you have acquitted yourself well, though belatedly, in the choice you have made. In the past, your rhetoric made up for an absence of agenda. Last night, you might have done better to make absent the rhetoric and let your aides provide the details of the agenda.
In large part, because of his absence of conviction, I won’t be increasing the count of cheers I have already offered you. For my part, I grant you that one cheer for making a decent choice and withhold a further cheer because of the way you justified it last night. Yet another might have been forthcoming had you not offered a timetable for the operation and provide instead an assurance of victory.
Indeed, that word, “victory” was strangely absent from the speech. Yet, talk of himself was omnipresent as well as attacks on his predecessor’s failings. Seems some habits are hard to break. Did that predecessor ever, in a prepared speech, brag about the letters he signed to the families of soldiers who gave their all for our country?
Victor Davis Hanson who, like Charles Krauthammer, found the speech “strange,” wondered that the President deplored “partisanship while serially trashing Bush at each new talking point.” There was a lot of stuff in the speech that just didn’t belong there as if he felt it necessary to include the talking points from his campaign and his Administration’s early days. You know deploring political polarization, decrying the deficit, reminding us of how bad the economy us, telling us the days of division and failed policies are over.
All that said, there were some moments where he said some good and necessary things. He distinguished this conflict from Vietnam. He acknowledged the successes in Iraq, but didn’t acknowledge his predecessor for shifting strategy in Iraq so we might achieve those successes. He acknowledged that he U.S. has been a force for good in the world. He acknowledged Pakistan’s for undertaking “its largest offensive in years,” reminding us that “the United States and Pakistan share a common enemy.” Yet, here again, he felt compelled to take a swipe at his predecessor, suggesting he “defined our relationship with Pakistan narrowly.” Huh? That predecessor strengthened our ties with that Islamic nation, helping it move from military dictatorship to constitutional democracy, with elections ushering in new leadership.
Perhaps, I’m being too critical about the speech. After all, folks like me were already on board when we heard he had was planning something akin to a “surge.” Perhaps, aware of that, he targeted his remarks to his left-of-center supporters who would appreciate his campaign bromides and anti-Bush broadsides. Michelle references Andrew Ferguson who opined:
It’s worth an extra twenty minutes of presidential gassing off. It’s even worth a lot of guff about beginning to pull the troops out by a date certain, no matter what. (I’ll believe it when I see it.) If this is what he needs to mollify his political supporters, let him talk and talk and talk.
Yes, the president did talk too long (Ferguson thinks he “could have shaved 60 percent from his address tonight”). Were I not a blogger, I might have stopped watching after the speech’s first ten minutes. I did have trouble concentrating and started chatting with friends on Facebook as he droned on . . . and on . . . .
He did seem mightily defense and did not seem to have put his heart into this. But, then, he did remind of the attacks of 9/11 and why we’re in Afghanistan. And he has put forward a decent strategy for victory there. It’s just too bad he didn’t speak the word that came naturally to other wartime leaders as they rallied their people to a just cause.