Over at National Review Online’s Corner blog, Mark Steyn concedes that he was a “little stunned by the first part of the President’s speech” last night reporting that Osama bin Laden had been killed in a raid by U.S. forces. “[A]ll that telepromptered overload about cloudless Tuesday mornings was not only tackily over-prettified but came over as unfelt and hand-me-down, like a course exercise in some third-rate creative-writing school’s Soaring Oratory class,” Steyn complained.
But perhaps the most stunning thing about the speech was the message that the “telepromptered overload” was intended to reinforce:
On September 11, 2001, in our time of grief, the American people came together. We offered our neighbors a hand, and we offered the wounded our blood. We reaffirmed our ties to each other, and our love of community and country. On that day, no matter where we came from, what God we prayed to, or what race or ethnicity we were, we were united as one American family.
The American people came together, we were united as one American family—the theme of unity was so important to the president that he returned to it again at the end of his speech, just in case anybody had missed it (“let us think back to the sense of unity that prevailed on 9/11”). The triumph of getting bin Laden, for him, was apparently diluted by the sense of unity that had been lost in the intervening decade.
By a remarkable coincidence, yesterday was also the eighth anniversary of President George W. Bush’s famous “Mission Accomplished” speech aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln marking the end of major combat operations in Iraq.
Bush’s theme was liberty—he used the word and its partner freedom twenty times in the speech:
Our commitment to liberty is America’s tradition—declared at our founding, affirmed in Franklin Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms, asserted in the Truman Doctrine, and in Ronald Reagan’s challenge to an evil empire. We are committed to freedom in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and in a peaceful Palestine. The advance of freedom is the surest strategy to undermine the appeal of terror in the world. Where freedom takes hold, hatred gives way to hope. When freedom takes hold, men and women turn to the peaceful pursuit of a better life. American values, and American interests, lead in the same direction: We stand for human liberty.
The contrast between Bush’s commitment to liberty and Obama’s emphasis upon a lost family-like unity is stunning enough. What is even more striking, though, was Bush’s eagerness to thank the American troops that liberated Iraq from Saddam Hussein: “Your courage—your willingness to face danger for your country and for each other—made this day possible.” Indeed, Bush repeatedly addressed the troops directly, in the second person, as if he could not thank them enough. “When I look at the members of the United States military, I see the best of our country,” he said, “and I am honored to be your commander in chief.”
By contrast, Obama elaborated his theme of unity even before he got around to thanking the men who tracked down and killed bin Laden. Like Bush, he praised the “professionalism, patriotism, and unparalleled courage of those who serve our country.” But when he spoke of being their commander in chief, his tone was utterly different from Bush’s:
The American people did not choose this fight. It came to our shores, and started with the senseless slaughter of our citizens. After nearly 10 years of service, struggle, and sacrifice, we know well the costs of war. These efforts weigh on me every time I, as Commander-in-Chief, have to sign a letter to a family that has lost a loved one, or look into the eyes of a service member who’s been gravely wounded.
Even at a moment of triumph, President Obama is weighted down with sorrow over what has been lost rather than being lifted up with gratitude for what “the best of our country” have accomplished again and again.