I find Mark Steyn’s writing occasionally quite good, and I thought his recent column on Barack Obama’s Gulf Oil Spill speech pointed out a major flaw in his rhetoric: his persistent, professorial attempts to move from the particulars of a problem to more general themes:
In the race speech, invited to address specific points about his pastor’s two-decade pattern of ugly anti-American rhetoric and his opportunist peddling of paranoid conspiracies to his gullible congregants about AIDS being invented by the U.S. government to wipe them out, Mr. Obama preferred to talk about race in general – you know, blacks, whites, that sort of thing. The media loved it. This time around, invited to address specific points about an unstoppable spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Mr. Obama retreated to more generalities – the environment, land, air, that sort of thing. “President Obama said he is going to use the Gulf disaster to push a new energy bill through Congress,” observed Jay Leno. “How about using the Gulf disaster to fix the Gulf disaster?”
This is the abstract, distant, and bloodless quality that has been at once an asset and liability for Obama. Back in the campaign–the emotional excesses of which seem like ancient history–this showed the appearance of intellectual seriousness and calm in contrast to the more visceral Bush. But imagine a President Obama the day after 9/11. In a million years, could you imagine him with a bullhorn rallying Americans on the rubble of the Twin Towers? He is simply uncomfortable with concrete problems and particular situations. He is uncomfortable with the fact that he is an American President today and not simply a world historical figure without portfolio. Obama’s life experience suggests part of the reason for his style; he barely litigated particular cases for particular litigants and soon went on to politics and a very undemanding law professor gig at the University of Chicago. Obama has never connected with real people and real problems. Even his dissatisfaction with community organizing stemmed from his boredom with fixing housing projects and getting streets paved in contrast to changing the whole system. He is only comfortable at the apex, but he has forgotten that he is not the president of the “twenty year plan” but the president of today who must address problems as they appear, whether he wants to or not. Instead, he always wants to channel these things into preconceived ideas about what is needed long term.
Setting aside the rhetorical problems that may be his undoing, Obama’s concern for the “long term” has an air of farce about it, because the longest term and most real problem we have is the impending bankruptcy of the federal government because of entitlement spending, and Obama has done absolutely nothing to address this and instead made the problem worse by adding a new entitlement in the form of government financed health care.