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Barack Obama’s vibe used to be a cross between JFK and Beatlemania. Now it’s fading into “Oh, him again?”
There’s nothing wrong with a boring politician. But Obama isn’t becoming boring in a stolid, dependable Angela Merkel kind of way. He’s not boring like a mannerly George H. W. Bush or a thoughtful Bill Bradley. He’s boring like yesterday’s celebrity.
He’s the teen heartthrob who’s grown a little too old. He’s the star from The Real World Denver — three years ago. The cruel vicissitudes of the celebrity culture apply to everyone. If Paris Hilton can be overtaken by the even-more-pointlessly famous Kim Kardashian, no one is safe.
Much of what was new and different about Obama didn’t survive its first contact with reality. His core supporters on the left suffer from what Woodrow Wilson called, in a different context, the “tragedy of disappointment.” They expected a glorious new dispensation. Yet Gitmo remains open, more troops are going to Afghanistan, and the tides haven’t receded.
Swing voters had more modest hopes — responsible, nonideological governance. Nope.
The Obama team believes there is only one person who can redeem his political project — and that’s Barack Obama. He must be deployed early, often, unrelentingly. He’ll talk to your children in the classroom, show up during your Thanksgiving Day NFL game and explain — and explain some more — his policies.
The old preacher’s adage is, “Tell them what you’re going to tell them. Tell them. Tell them what you told them.” Obama might add “repeat as necessary,” including on late-night TV shows.
An American president is almost by definition overexposed. But Obama has jammed a full term’s worth of exposure into a mere eleven months. Michelle Obama notoriously said during the campaign, “Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual, uninvolved, uninformed.” What she really meant, apparently, was that Barack would never again allow us to turn on the TV without seeing or hearing Barack.
The historic, high-stakes Obama speech is practically a fortnightly experience. Given the frequency, they can’t all be interesting. But in their tendency toward the crashingly banal, they all run together into the same mind-numbing oration.
In Oslo, his Nobel speech contained an admirable vein of realism. But he still dazzled with the obvious — war has been endemic to human history. He awed with the unconsciously egomaniacal — “I do not bring with me today a definitive solution to the problems of war.” (Did he really think that disclaimer necessary?) He sparkled with borderline nonsensical faux profundity — “we do not have to think that human nature is perfect for us to still believe that the human condition can be perfected.”
In his West Point speech, unveiling one of the most important decisions of his presidency, Obama managed to talk for 33 minutes without either truly setting expectations for the difficult year ahead in Afghanistan or explaining why his policy would work. Why bother when he had the opportunity to regale the country with his favorite clichés?
Obama seems to believe he’s the first person to stumble on the concept of the “interconnected world.” He often speaks in a professorial manner that treats his listeners as if they are all eager to be lectured in Obama 101, managing to sound thoughtful without any true depth or wisdom. Abraham Lincoln once said, “It is very common in this country to find great facility of expression and less common to find great lucidity of thought.” Obama confirms the insight.
He can’t help studding his speech with self-references, as if he were still fascinating and new. Obama is not nearly as dull as, say, Herman Van Rompuy, the European Union’s new president. But he is inflicted on us much more routinely and with much greater intensity. On net, that might make Barack Obama one of the most boring people in the world.
– Rich Lowry is editor of National Review. © 2009 by King Features Syndicate.