The Corner

Obama Is Cory Remsburg, and Everybody Else

At least one part of Obama’s speech last night was both moving and fitting:

I first met Cory Remsburg, a proud Army Ranger, at Omaha Beach on the 65th anniversary of D-Day. Along with some of his fellow Rangers, he walked me through the program – a strong, impressive young man, with an easy manner, sharp as a tack. We joked around, and took pictures, and I told him to stay in touch.

A few months later, on his tenth deployment, Cory was nearly killed by a massive roadside bomb in Afghanistan. His comrades found him in a canal, face down, underwater, shrapnel in his brain.

For months, he lay in a coma. The next time I met him, in the hospital, he couldn’t speak; he could barely move. Over the years, he’s endured dozens of surgeries and procedures, and hours of grueling rehab every day.

Even now, Cory is still blind in one eye. He still struggles on his left side. But slowly, steadily, with the support of caregivers like his dad Craig, and the community around him, Cory has grown stronger. Day by day, he’s learned to speak again and stand again and walk again – and he’s working toward the day when he can serve his country again.

“My recovery has not been easy,” he says. “Nothing in life that’s worth anything is easy.”

It turns out that NBC’s Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro all enjoyed this part of the speech, too. Not least because, as Murray tweeted, “Obama’s ending on Remsburg wasn’t just a story about America — it also was a story about Obama. Nothing has ever come easy.” As the trio wrote in a longer post:

Last night’s speech also ended on an emotional — and upbeat — note when Obama recognized Army Ranger Cory Remsburg, who was almost killed in Afghanistan and continues to recuperate from a brain injury. “My fellow Americans, men and women like Cory remind us that America has never come easy,” the president said. “Our freedom, our democracy, has never been easy. Sometimes we stumble, we make mistakes; we get frustrated or discouraged. But for more than 200 years, we have put those things aside and placed our collective shoulder to the wheel of progress.” That story could also apply to Obama himself: Nothing in his seven years on the national political stage (2007-2014) has come easy. The 2008 race for the Democratic nomination. Even that general election. The health-care law. The re-election campaign. And now the president’s current situation in which he finds himself bloodied and bruised after the botched health-care rollout. Perseverance is an important quality for any president. Bill Clinton was usually able to talk his way out of sticky situations. But Obama’s M.O. is to grind it out. That, more than anything else, was the message he wanted to send last night — both he and the country are grinding it out. 

Just to clarify here: On the one hand we have the story of the president of the world’s most powerful nation and his heroic effort to comply with the checks and balances of America’s constitutional system, to tolerate the dissent of the citizenry that employs him, and to scrape by on his handsome salary, mansion-lifestyle, and omnipresent security detail. On the other hand, we have the tale of a soldier who was deployed into a warzone ten times, who was found “in a canal, face down, underwater, shrapnel in his brain,” and who spent months in a coma.

In what universe can these two things be regarded as similar? I can’t even imagine how one could be tempted to connect the two. Occasionally, I am asked by people who know what I do for a living why I am so bothered by the cult that has grown up around the president. This is why. That anybody could write that sentence is astonishing to me; that the senior political editors of one of the country’s largest news outlets could offer it is almost too much to bear. (Tellingly, Obama’s former speechwriter, Jon Favreau, agreed emphatically.)

There is, it seems, nothing that isn’t about Obama. Everything is: Thanksgiving, Christmas, the Olympics, the death of Rosa Parks, the moon landing, the anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination, Nelson Mandela’s passing, your wedding, your conversations with your parents. Everything. Government is the one thing we all belong to — the word we use for the things we do together — and its leader is our national focal point. All memories are his. All lessons lead back to his life. All struggles are best understood within the context of his own. Even the easiest of upbringings, educations, and electoral records can be transmuted into a story of rags to riches if the narrative demands. I await with heady anticipation the publication of the New Little Red Book (NBC, 60 pp., $12.99 without subsidy).