Friday, June 12, 2009

Our Speechifying President

People, let me repeat once again: we allowed the media to bring us the Obama presidency. Drunk with euphoria its members swooned under the great motivational speaker’s spell. Again and again, the One, borrowing the cadences of aging civil rights leaders and evangelical preachers, instantaneously transformed campaign rallies into foot-stomping revival meetings with legions shouting “Yes we can!”

And how many of our youthful electorate believed Obama when he promised that solely by virtue of his personality he could unite the country and even go forth and bring peace to all the nations?

Beating the drums, giddy media reps without even a Toastmaster session to their credit, typed out reports describing oratory of a quality unheard of since JFK or maybe even Lincoln.Yeah, Lincoln. That’s who this newcomer Obama was like. Look at his record. It’s logical, isn’t it? Like Lincoln, he has no experience; therefore, he’ll be another great president! That’s it, our faithful media told us, Obama is a budding genius.

But wait. There may be hope that our media boys and girls are beginning to snap out of it. Tom Bevan at RealClearPolitics suggests that Obama’s “gift” for speechifying may be wearing thin:

Not only does Obama speak often, but his speeches also appear to be growing longer. And here we thought Joe Biden was the loquacious one. But Obama is proving the one to be incapable of brevity. The president’s answers to questions at press conferences and in interviews can sometimes run upwards of five minutes or more. His remarks at daily public events can routinely run over 1,000 words. In the past month Obama has delivered 8 speeches running at least two thousand words each, including a nearly hour long address in Cairo last week and a mammoth 6,500 word discourse on national security on May 21.

Another issue is that Obama’s oratory is starting to sound very formulaic. During the campaign, Obama excelled by repeating a well-honed stump speech about hope and change at hundreds of rallies across the country. Obama has adopted a similar approach as President, and the sheer volume of speeches he’s given makes the pattern quite noticeable. In almost every speech, Obama bemoans the extremes on both the left and the right, predictably employing straw man arguments to discredit his opposition and position himself in the “reasonable” middle.

But here’s the kicker – Bevan has even noticed what was apparent to some of us way back in ‘06:

Lastly, Obama’s speeches are often strikingly self referential. Clearly, Obama sees {his} unique background and his life experiences as an asset and a rhetorical tool, which helps explain why his recent speech in Cairo was peppered with 68 first person references (I, me, my, or mine). But the habit carries over to other speeches as well, leaving the impression that Obama is often interested in talking about Obama.
In his speech honoring the 65th Anniversary of D-Day, for example, Obama made 10 first person references. While not a huge number in itself, it was eight more than Gordon Brown made and nine more than Stephen Harper made in their respective speeches that day. In his aforementioned national security speech on May 21, President Obama made an astounding 147 first person references.

Most important, however, Obama’s high profile speechmaking on a range of big issues from restructuring GM to solving Middle East peace has dramatically increased the pressure on him to deliver results. As the Wall Street Journal put it on Monday, Obama is finding that “his own oratory laying out an ever-more-ambitious agenda, both in foreign and domestic policy, is ratcheting up demands for concrete achievements.”

Obama’s “gift” propelled him to the White House. He’s now relying on it heavily to sell the American people on his vision of change. But at some point the public is going to get tired of hearing speeches from Obama, no matter how eloquent or well delivered. They will expect results. If Obama can’t deliver those results, his “gift” will become a handicap in the form of a reputation as the president who talked the talk but couldn’t walk the walk.

About that little matter of walking the walk, just ask the LGBT community now reeling from the news that Obama has reneged on yet another campaign promise – that would be the one regarding the Defense of Marriage Act.

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