On Obama’s Speech

by Jonah Goldberg

The suits will cut my rations for it, but here’s the opening salvo in today’s G-File (only obtainable through email subscription). The more jocular stuff, I’ll save for subscribers:


Well, I’m going to be writing elsewhere on Obama’s uplifting, noble speech to what appeared to be the homecoming rally of the Arizona Wildcats.

I take it that a lot of readers out there hated the speech for one or more of several reasons. They include:
 
1. They don’t have any faith in Obama’s sincerity. This is part of his race to the center, and it amounts to saying “nice doggie” until he can find a rock.

2. The audience. Cheering at the name of a murdered 9-year-old girl like she was the starting running back creeps a lot of people out.

3. Obama deserves some blame for the audience, because the White House advance people seemed to want it that way — prepping the place with T-shirts and whatnot.

4. Obama took his sweet time clamping down on the climate his surrogates helped create. It’s pretty easy to parachute in only after your side’s campaign of vilification hasn’t worked — and your side got in what shots they could — before yelling time out.

5. The false equivalence between what the Left was doing this week and what the Right was doing. The Right’s self-defense may have been contributing to the poisonous atmosphere this week. But that’s like saying resisting an assault from a mugger is contributing to the atmosphere of violence.
 
I think all of these things have merit, some more than others. But it seems to me you have to take events as they come. The speech was a good speech, probably the best of his presidency (somewhat surprisingly, that’s not as high praise as it might sound). The president, who campaigned as a post-partisan, spent two years in office as a rank and intellectually disingenuous partisan. For two years, conservatives have been decrying and denouncing Obama for failing to live up to his own standards.

Last night Obama took our advice. He gave what may have been the least self-involved speech he has ever given — and the most presidential. It was high-minded and empathetic, open-hearted and civil. It was inspiring without belittling those not on his side. Unlike, say, his secretary of state, never mind the majority of his biggest defenders in the press, he didn’t pretend to know what drove Jared Loughner beyond the demons of his own dementia, and he subtly chastised those who claim they do.
 
Would it have been nice if he had come out earlier to tamp down the acrimony? Yes. Would it have been appropriate for him to ask the audience to stop cheering for a minute? Absolutely. Would it have been better if he’d thrown sharper elbows to his left? Maybe. But barring dropping to his knees like Henry in the snows of Canossa and begging for forgiveness, I suspect that some of his detractors simply can’t give him credit. I can understand that. President Obama deserves his share of blame for the climate in this country.

But this speech seemed as much as anything to be a good-faith effort to mend things.

Will he hold to the spirit of his speech? Who knows? Bill Clinton’s Oklahoma City remarks were more high-minded than people remember. It was his comments the day after that were so horrendous and shameful.

Like the man said, trust but verify.

One last point. It is amazing how moving to the center amounts to taking the high road. Obama wants to be president again. That requires being a better one than he has been. The press will launch its usual lick-bath fawning, but I doubt they’ll acknowledge the subtle rebuke they’ve received.