Dear Reader (including those of you who have subjected this gag to floccinaucinihilipilification.)
Obama gave perhaps the best speech of his presidency last night and no one cares (for an excellent recap see this Taiwanese animation).
Maybe I am alone in this, but have you ever noticed that when you watch a recording of a movie — on a DVR, DVD, Blueray whatever — and you rewind a scene or even a snippet of dialogue, it suddenly makes whatever the actor is saying seem fake? Watch Don Corleone deliver a great little 30-second speech in The Godfather and then rewind it and watch it again, and suddenly you can see that it’s an actor reciting words. The more you do it, the more fully you’re removed from the flow of the movie.
Something similar happens for political reporters who follow politicians around on the stump. Once you’ve seen a candidate give the same speech — with the same uhs and ahs, the same choked-up moments, the same comedic pauses — a dozen, two dozen times, it becomes impossible not to grow jaded and cynical about it. You may still like the politician, but the substance of what he’s saying fades into the background.
Heck, we all know that if you just say a word over and over and over and over again, it soon starts to sound funny or fake. Quick: say “sponge” twenty times fast.
That’s where we are with Obama, I think. He’s become an endlessly looped highlight reel. He says the same things, makes the same arguments, uses the same debater’s tricks, and can’t understand why he’s not getting the same reaction he got in 2007-2008.
He’s the political equivalent of an aging Vegas crooner who doesn’t understand why 25-year-old girls don’t still give him their hotel room keys when he sings “Fly Me to the Moon” the way they did when he was 50 pounds lighter and 30 years younger.
The old lines don’t work anymore either. C’mon baby, did I tell you that Warren Buffet wants his taxes raised? You’ve got to dig that.
This has always been an acute problem for Obama because his meteoric political rise had more to do with the dynamics of faddishness than they did with merit or experience. He belonged in the category of Beanie Babies and Justin Bieber more than that of Lincoln or FDR.
It must be very frustrating for Obama, because he seems to think he “delivers” when he gives a good speech. But politicians, even non-faddish ones, aren’t like baseball players, who deliver the goods when they get on base or hit a home run. If a good baseball player does the same thing he did last year or ten years ago, he’s an all-star. If a politician simply repeats what he did last year, he’s in danger of being a has-been.
Obama’s speeches get “better” in the same sense that when we talk to people who don’t speak a word of English, we think if we say things louder and slower they will suddenly understand English. Rhetorically, he talks louder and slower by simultaneously clarifying and becoming more strident in making arguments he’s made a million times before.
Meanwhile, his political operation is like the entourage who tells the crooner he’s still got it baby. Work that cowbell one more time.
I think the reason it comes across so glaringly as a performance is that Obama, for all his creased-pants Niebuhrian nuance, is stunningly unreflective about himself. His public persona is nearly always “I meant to do that.” So there was no acknowledgment that all of his “new ideas” last night weren’t new. No acknowledgement that he tried this stuff before in the stimulus. It’s just one more encore of “Fly Me to the Moon.”
I should say there have been times where he has admitted fault, but even then it comes across badly. His admissions that “shovel-ready” wasn’t shovel-ready (which should have been a scandal) either took the form of a condescending giggle or a report of fact that he assumed everyone else would be surprised by, too. He discovered that “shovel-ready” was b.s., and rather than report this as confirmation that Obama was outrageously learning on the job, the media acted like the man had confirmed the existence of a heretofore unknown atomic particle. Of course we can forgive you for not knowing shovel ready jobs don’t exist, the New York Times crowd seemed to say, because we thought they existed too!
All of the other times he’s admitted failure, it’s been a kind of humble brag. After Scott Brown’s election and again after the 2010 “shellacking,” he explained his biggest failure was that he, in effect, hadn’t sung “Fly Me To The Moon” louder and better with accompanying cowbell. In other words (heh), if only he gave people more Obama, everything would be better. It reminds me of the Campbell Scott character in Singles who thinks if he can just explain that his idea for commuter rail involves providing commuters a really, really good cup of coffee, everyone will understand the genius of his boondoggle.
Yes, I know Obama is trying to “trap” the GOP, and his advisers are moving little pewter toy-soldier versions of Boehner and Cantor on giant maps in the West Wing playroom. But at its core, last night’s speech was built around the assumption that all that separates Obama from a second term and greatness is one more really good speech, when the truth is that all that separates Obama from a second term and greatness is Obama.
Space-Time Continuum Problem
Last night the president said:
Pass this jobs bill, and starting tomorrow, small businesses will get a tax cut if they hire new workers or raise workers’ wages. Pass this jobs bill, and all small business owners will also see their payroll taxes cut in half next year. If you have 50 employees making an average salary, that’s an $80,000 tax cut. And all businesses will be able to continue writing off the investments they make in 2012.
This morning the White House confirmed it will get the bill to Congress sometime next week.
The other day, a young staffer at AEI asked me to record a quick remembrance of 9/11 — where were you when, how did it change you, etc. It’s always been an awkward question, because so much of my adult life began at the same time.
In late August of 2001 I drove cross-country to marry the Fair Jessica in Friday Harbor, Washington. We got hitched (a lot of money changed hands in a bookie parlor somewhere on that day) and went on our honeymoon. Afterwards, my new wife had to go straight home to Washington to return to her new job as chief speechwriter to the attorney general. I had to go back to get Cosmo the Wonderdog from my sister-in-law. One day after picking up Cosmo, I was in my hotel room in Pendleton, Oregon, working on my column, pre-dawn. I remember watching some poor guy from Newsweek hawking his book on Bush v. Gore on Fox and Friends when the host apologized to him and said, I’m sorry, we have to cover this breaking story about a small single-engine plane hitting the World Trade Center. Needless to say, that guy didn’t get another book interview for a long time. I started flipping around the dial and saw the second plane hit the towers even as Bryant Gumbel was throwing cold water on speculation this might be terrorism. I instant-messaged (remember instant-messaging?) Rich Lowry and told him he needed to turn on the TV . . .
And the rest, as they say, is history.
The point is that the cliché “everything changed on 9/11” has always seemed off-key to me, because as luck would have it, everything changed in my life around then anyway. By the time the Iraq war started, my daughter was born. By the worst of the Iraq war, my father had died.
That said, I have to admit that I’m less caught up in the remembrances than most. While, I get choked up over some of the stories from 9/11 as much as the next guy, I have to say there’s something about the way we’re marking the anniversary that bothers me.
For instance, where’s the celebration that we’re kicking the enemy’s ass? Bin Laden is dead. Al-Qaeda is a wreck. Saddam Hussein, who may not have orchestrated 9/11 but who was certainly our enemy, is dead. I don’t want to turn the anniversary into Happy Revenge for 9/11 Day. But there’s something so maudlin and sad-sacky about the coverage that grates on me. Must everything be turned into an opportunity to wallow in remorse?
The hard left seems to think we did it to ourselves either figuratively (because we invite such hatred) or literally because it was an “inside job.” For the liberal establishment 9/11 is a day to embrace our victimhood. For both, it’s a day to lament that 9/11 gave George W. Bush and Dick Cheney a free hand. And for the right, well, the right seems all over the place about 9/11. Some of it is maudlin. Some of it strikes me as a bit desperate to keep the emotions of that day alive to justify continuing the war on terror. Meanwhile, I could just use a bit more celebration of that the barbarians who pulled on Superman’s cape got what they were asking for.
Various & Sundry
For those of you who didn’t bother to do the math, the fact that this is the tenth anniversary of 9/11 means it is also the tenth anniversary of the Fair Jessica’s miraculous miscalculation in agreeing to marry me. We couldn’t celebrate on August 25, for reasons that — really! — weren’t my fault. Indeed, I had a fantabulous plan lined up but it got all blown up by — again! — factors that are not my fault.
So we’re going to San Francisco next week. No, I can’t meet up with anybody. “Honey, I know tonight is our special night, but would you mind if we just stopped by this bar and talked to like 20 people about fascism and what Mark Steyn, Derb, and Rich Lowry are really like for like three hours?”
But since this trip is more on the fly, I’ll take recommendations for just about anything. Alas, it’s too late to get reservations at the trendiest restaurants. But that doesn’t mean it’s too late for the best ones.
Here’s my column on the problem with “Catch-22 liberalism.”
And speaking of blowing things up, you do know that real men don’t watch explosions. They just walk away.