Aug 31 2010
The post title is a completely unrelated quote from a Harry Potter movie (The Goblet of Fire) to lead into my take on the President’s address to the nation tonight. Its all I could think of to convey my mixed reaction to the President’s address. An address that started strong, and then droned on into oblivion.
For the first few minutes it seemed “President” Obama had finally arrived. As the nation’s leader he did an excellent job of reviewing the war on Iraq, the sacrifices and costs, the disagreements, but also the opportunity all that has brought us to the brink to realizing. He recognized the potential for Iraq and the world that our blood and treasure – and that of our allies – bought humanity. Even his slightly wooden delivery seemed to honor the importance of this historic turning point and moment. The combined hope for Iraq and the West was there for him to take hold of and expand upon.
Then ‘professor’ Obama decided to come out and the entire mood was lost. Obama began to get too lofty, too preachy, too filled with public relations speak. Not sure how he did it, but by the time he was moaning about the trillion dollars spent on bringing Iraq to this magical moment (without acknowledging his administration’s spending twice that much and failing to fix our own economy) the inspiration was gone. We reached for the cable remote as he babbled on about vague, Kumbahya-like visions of world harmony not achievable under past administrations, but here but for the luck of Obama. When he started to congratulate himself for meeting his campaign promises, he lost the nation. This was not about the future of Iraq, it was about candidate Obama’s promises. Ugh.
I have never seen a more tone deaf group than this crowd in DC right now. All he had to do was acknowledge that major sacrifices had brought the world to this pivotal moment when Iraq once again was a sovereign nation, now led by a democratic government. All he had to de was ‘move on’ to the future and bring us together in rallying behind our new ally, this time without guns or tanks or fighter jets.. But he doused that achievement with a review of the political score card.
A moment lost. An amateur arose from the fleeting glimpse of a potential leader. An opportunity squandered.
And a nation shrugged and turned away (or tuned away, in this modern age) as the man focused on himself and his views – not ours or the potential for the world.
Update: Fred Kaplan at Slate nails the problem with the address last night:
On the one hand: “There should be no doubt the Iraqi people will have a strong partner in the United States; our combat mission is ending, but our commitment to Iraq’s future is not.”
On the other hand: “Through this remarkable chapter in the history of the United States and Iraq, we have met our responsibility. Now, it is time to turn the page.”
On the one hand: “Because of the drawdown in Iraq, we are now able to apply the resources necessary to go on offense [in Afghanistan].”
On the other hand: “As we wind down the war in Iraq, we must tackle those challenges at home [jobs, deficits, energy independence, and education] with as much energy and grit and sense of common purpose as our men and women in uniform who have served abroad.”
None of this is wrong. All the pieces of what he said are worth saying. But what was he saying overall? Which pieces did he mean to emphasize most? What made the message worth the high profile of a prime-time address to the nation?
Exactly. What was new here? What was the point?