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July 17, 2009
What is the point of Obama's orations?
Daniel Henninger in the Wall Street Journal dares to ask the question, wondering what the president is trying to accomplish with all of these speeches?
Here's the problem: Mr. Obama is not the nation's Speaker in Chief. He's not a senator, and he's no longer a candidate. He's the president. A president's major speeches are different than those of anyone else. That high office imposes demands beyond the power of a podium. Inspiration matters, but the office also requires acts of leadership. A U.S. president's words must be connected to something beyond sentiment and eloquence. Too much of the time, Barack Obama's big speeches don't seem to be connected to anything other than his own interesting thoughts on some subject.
With one notable exception -- health care -- there is a disconnect between the scale of Mr. Obama's ideas and his actions, and sometimes even reality, as when he says a U.S-Russian commitment to a world without nuclear weapons would be the "legal and moral foundation" for persuading the world's rogues to do the same. What, exactly, comes after the moral foundation?
The Russian "reset" isn't a foreign-policy statement; it's a sentiment. If you were the head of an Islamic nation, what policy conclusion were you supposed to take from that Cairo speech? All past administrations have been willing to talk to adversaries. When he speaks as president, Mr. Obama's audiences have reason to expect that some concrete actions or policies will flow from seemingly major statements. Other than more diplomats talking, I don't think much of anything is going to follow these. The Speech was pretty much it.
This is spot on. But Henninger goes all around the real problem without once mentioning that Obama's speeches are part of his "permanent campaign" as AT's Rich Baehr has said on a number of occasions. Obama has yet to show that, as Henninger points out, he can actually lead - or, more specifically - govern. People are already noticing that Obama has shown a lack of leadership on all of his domestic initiatives (Henninger says that health care is an exception although one might ask who is doing all of the heavy lifting - Obama or Congress?).
Obama's singular inability to lead, to govern, is what will make his presidency a failed one. He can talk a good game. But when push comes to shove, he either doesn't do anything, or does the wrong thing.