National Security & Defense

Obama’s Crusades

How did that line end up in his speech?

There may not be too much to add to the commentary of Jonah, Eliana, and others on President Obama’s condescending and offensive remarks on the Crusades and slavery at the National Prayer Breakfast speech last week, but there a few things I haven’t seen folks say.

After six years, it is so tiring to constantly be lectured to, talked down to, by Barack Obama that at some level, the content doesn’t really matter. It’s the principle of the thing. We elected a commander-in-chief, not a scold-in-chief, but the latter is what the progressive Left, embodied by Obama, sees as its primary role today. They just can’t see the rest of the country, outside the Upper East Side salons and Cambridge and San Francisco dining rooms, as adults. We’re all of us, all 300 million of us, the slightly dim children that need to be lectured to constantly. Sit up, don’t slouch, you’re forgetting your racist past, etc., etc.

Something I have asked myself: Does he really believe what he says, or is it all just for political effect, to send conservatives into a tizzy, eat up the airwaves, and keep us off-balance? He must have known how ridiculous, how unintelligent, and how offensive his comments were going to sound, correct? There’s a pause after he delivers the Crusades remark, you can see it below, and I just wonder, did he know that this was a stupid thing to say?

I hope so, I really do. Maybe he was just caught up in the moment, already committed to the lines — that’s politics — but there’s a pause just slightly longer than usual in his delivery. Maybe he was simply waiting for the profundity of his remarks to sink in, but I want to think that in his head, he was saying, “Gosh, this is really dumb.” But, never having been called on the carpet since, oh, probably Columbia, he is so used to saying whatever comes into his head without any criticism or knock-down, that he just did it.

But that can’t be true, and this is the thing that really depresses me. Even if you haven’t worked in government, the one thing that everyone in Washington, D.C., knows is that no president speaks alone. Every word, every line of every speech goes through multiple, sometimes dozens of hands. From the junior speechwriter, to the head speechwriter, to the assistant to the chief of staff, to the chief of staff, maybe to someone on the National Security Council or the State Department (since this speech talked about foreign issues), there are eyes and eyes and eyes reading the drafts.

No one said, “Wait, this is just stupid.” Or, “Isn’t this irrelevant to today’s threat?” Or, “Man, we’re going to offend about a billion people with this line.” Or at least, no one powerful enough said it. It’s not just the president, it’s that all those arrogant, bright young things around him, from the nameless wordsmith to 46-year-old chief of staff Denis McDonough, thought it was fine to scold us with centuries-old history by equating 21st-century Islamist barbarians with 11th-century medieval Christians. And when they let that speech go through, they showed the rest of us what, not just the president, but everyone working around him really thinks about Western civilization. And, after six years, I know that I should know this, but it depresses me still.

Which brings me to my last observation. We all know how weighty, demanding, crushing the role of president is. We know our presidents are just people, more or less like us. But, as an optimistic culture, we expect our presidents to grow in office, to become wiser, more patient, less arrogant, especially when they no longer have to worry about the next election.

Barack Obama’s speech last week showed that, after six years, he has not grown at all. Most likely, he can’t grow, and won’t in his last two years in office. He has a no more subtle or informed understanding of the world, of history, of the beauty and power of our imperfect Western civilization after leading its greatest country for more than half a decade.

Even worse, after all the travel, the rallies, the parades, he still has so little understanding of We, the People. He still thinks we need to be reminded of a bloody European past that happened 900 years ago, because that makes us, all of us small-l liberals, humble in the face of Islamist brutality. “There but for the grace of God go we,” he is saying, because he is still filled with every prejudice that Columbia and Harvard and the South Side of Chicago instilled in him. Some may say that’s because he’s not intellectually equipped to grow and transcend, but I can only think it’s because he doesn’t want to, doesn’t need to, because no one ever says, “Enough, this is dumb. And wrong.”

One of the more pretentious Washington phrases tossed around is “adult supervision.” It’s a way of demeaning and dismissing the arguments of those you disagree with, of saying that they’re simply acting or thinking emotionally. The ones we should listen to, of course, are the “adults,” the right-thinking ones. Not surprisingly, this phrase is usually used by progressives.

But if there ever was a time to say that the White House, and Barack Obama, lack adult supervision, well, this one is as good as his dozens of other ignorant, condescending insults to the American people. But it’s okay, Mr. President, the truth is, we have changed, even if you have not.

— Michael Auslin is a frequent contributor to National Review Online.

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