Saturday, May 22, 2010

Words Fail Him--and Us

The man can summon up endless sentences full of pseudo-Martin Luther King-esque profundities--the kind that make Chris Matthews's leg start to tingle--seemingly at will (so long as there's a teleprompter close by, of course). But, writes Mark Steyn, when the occasion calls for heartfelt words that should at the very least aspire to Churchillian heights of pith and outrage, all he can manage is a limp and downright insulting platitude:
...Like a lot of guys who've been told they're brilliant one time too often, President Obama gets a little lazy, and doesn't always choose his words with care. And so it was that he came to say a few words about Daniel Pearl, upon signing the "Daniel Pearl Press Freedom Act." Pearl was decapitated on video by jihadist Muslims in Karachi on Feb. 1, 2002. That's how I'd put it. This is what the president of the United States said:
"Obviously, the loss of Daniel Pearl was one of those moments that captured the world's imagination because it reminded us of how valuable a free press is."
Now Obama's off the prompter, when his silver-tongued rhetoric invariably turns to sludge. But he's talking about a dead man here, a guy murdered in public for all the world to see. Furthermore, the deceased's family is standing all around him. And, even for a busy president, it's the work of moments to come up with a sentence that would be respectful, moving and true. Indeed, for Obama, it's the work of seconds, because he has a taxpayer-funded staff sitting around all day with nothing to do but provide him with that sentence.
Instead, he delivered the one above, which in its clumsiness and insipidness is most revealing. First of all, note the passivity: "The loss of Daniel Pearl." He wasn't "lost." He was kidnapped and beheaded. He was murdered on a snuff video. He was specifically targeted, seized as a trophy, a high-value scalp. And the circumstances of his "loss" merit some vigor in the prose. Yet Obama can muster none...
And yet, he was able to muster it--once--when he said this:
Today we are engaged in a deadly global struggle for those who would intimidate, torture, and murder people for exercising the most basic freedoms. If we are to win this struggle and spread those freedoms, we must keep our own moral compass pointed in a true direction.
What's happened between then and now is that Obama's moral compass seems to have shifted. It is now pointing straight at Dar al Islam.

Update: I've shared this annecdote before, but in a non-Obama context. Here goes: Years ago I was assigned to write a speech for an Ontario cabinet minister. He was one of the government's lesser lights and, in fact, I had never even heard of him prior to the assignment. As I recall, he hailed from some rural locale, and was somewhat lacking in, shall we say, polish. Of course, being a lowly peon, I never met him, and dealt exclusively with his communications flak. In an effort to get a sense of the minister's speaking style (something I liked to do back then, so I could have the speech-maker's "voice" in my ear as I was writing), I ventured to his factotum, "So I take it the minister is no Winston Churchill?"

"Winston Churchill?" he laughed. "He isn't even Andy Griffith!"

Which I always felt was rather insulting to Andy Griffith, who may not have spoken in the plummy, orotund tones of a Winnie, but who, after all, possessed a certain native intelligence that earned him the admiration of his fellow Mayberryers, and that kept his motherless son Opie on the straight and narrow.

Why do I bring this up now? Because it occurs to me that, in his Pearl speech, Obama wasn't even Barney Fife.

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