Commentary Magazine


Comparing the Obama and Palin Speeches

The ridiculous media reaction to the speeches made by President Obama and Sarah Palin yesterday is just a glimpse of the type of coverage we’ll see if Palin becomes the Republican nominee for 2012. Today’s theme is obviously that Obama is a post-partisan unifier/masterful orator and Palin is a divisive megalomaniac. And so far, the message has been quite extensive in its reach.

Politico picked it up this morning in a headline story. “At sunrise in the East on Wednesday, Sarah Palin demonstrated that she has little interest — or capacity — in moving beyond her brand of grievance-based politics,” wrote Jonathan Martin. “And at sundown in the West, Barack Obama reminded even his critics of his ability to rally disparate Americans around a message of reconciliation.”

The New York Times and the Washington Post also piled on. “Obama has proven to be a polarizing figure in office, but on Wednesday he sought to unify,” wrote the Post’s Dan Balz. “Palin ended up dividing. On a day of scripted messages, presumably carefully considered, Obama made the most of his. Palin did not.”

And then the “tone” — which seems to be the word of the week — of the criticism disintegrated quickly from there.

“What America has witnessed in the last 24 hours is a president of the United States who acted like a president of the United States, a Speaker of the House who acted like a Speaker of the House — and Sarah Palin, a pretender to the presidency who acted like a divisive, selfish, small-minded self-promoter,” wrote Brent Budowsky at the Hill.

Radio host Bill Press, in a column that could have been excellent satire if it wasn’t written in earnest, wrote that Obama’s speech “was one of the most powerful speeches I’ve heard any president give. Like the Gettysburg Address in its lasting message.”

“What a contrast with the sickening, self-serving video released the same day by the dropout governor of Alaska,” Press continued. “In his remarks, President Obama expressed the hope that some good will come out of the tragedy in Tucson. If we’re lucky, one good thing will be the end of the already-too-long political career of Sarah Palin. She can make plenty of money at Fox News. That’s where she belongs, not with the rest of America.”

So Sarah Palin’s “divisive” speech was so sickening that she (and Fox News) shouldn’t be allowed to belong with the rest of America. Got it.

But back to the more substantive articles. While I wouldn’t go so far as to compare Obama’s speech with the Gettysburg Address, it deserves all the praise that it’s gotten from the media. It was emotional, inspiring, and comforting. In sum, it was everything a presidential speech should be in the aftermath of such a tragedy.

Palin’s speech, in comparison, didn’t seem as presidential. And so what? She’s not the president — and moreover, she wasn’t speaking at a memorial service — so there was no reason why she should have pretended otherwise.

Abe has already pointed to Jonah Goldberg’s post at the Corner; Goldberg also makes an apt point about Palin’s lack of a presidential demeanor:

I think the president was more presidential in no small part because he is the president. Palin’s video statement was something else because she is not the president. And the criticism that she should have turned the other cheek and not defended herself at all strikes me as beyond absurd. The woman was being accused of being a willful co-conspirator in murder. It is just unfair and flatly dishonest to expect her not to address that.

I second his other point as well. It’s particularly sleazy for the media to level false charges at Palin and then scold her for having the nerve to defend herself. Moreover, she barely even made any references to the criticisms leveled at her. The address struck me as more of a defense of free speech in general, something that is much more important to a democratic society than the protection of civil “tone.”