Commentary Magazine


Contentions

The Diffident President

Michael Gerson writes of Obama:

During the primaries, his cool detachment highlighted Sen. John McCain’s alarming excitability. As president, Obama’s rhetorical range runs from lecturing to prickly — the full gamut from A to C. His speeches are symphonies performed entirely with a tin whistle and an accordion. To switch metaphors, Obama is a pitcher with one pitch. He excels only at explanation. Initially this conveyed a chilly competence. But as the impression of competence has faded, we are left only with coldness.

Gerson, I think quite rightly, concludes that this is not a matter of communication skills but of Obama’s core beliefs — or lack of them. (“Obama’s limited rhetorical range raises questions about the content of his deepest beliefs. For this reason among others, the man who doesn’t need the love of crowds is gradually losing it.”)

Take the Ground Zero mosque. The president who has opined on everything from the Cambridge police department to college basketball cannot speak to his fellow citizens on a topic that has convulsed New York and ignited a fierce public debate. Moreover, isn’t it odd that the president — supposedly the explainer in chief on matters of Islam  — voices no opinion? Does he not care? Or are his views so politically unacceptable that they will only reinforce the perception that he stands apart from his countrymen on the most emotional issues of our time?

Honestly, a president can’t govern by “no comment” or practice what Gerson calls “appalling calm” when emotion is required. Obama has not been able to hide his disdain for ordinary Americans (Bible and gun huggers, he labeled them), the media, his political opponents, and a number of our most important allies. He holds himself apart and above it all. It is more than creepy; it’s a dereliction of duty. He was hired to lead, to rally his countrymen, and to — in his own words — bring us together and elevate America’s standing in the world. You don’t do that my mimicking a sullen teenager, contemptuous of those far more experienced and capable. If he doesn’t grow up and into the job, Americans will (maybe they have already) write him off and look for a true leader.



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