If only Barack Obama had something to say…
After all, we have never had a president who descended the steps of Air Force One with such catlike agility, hands almost as paws lightly bouncing in synchronization with each elfish footstep. Never has a commander in chief so casually, so confidently approached the podium as if he were popping open his own laptop, his jaw almost in Mussolini style thrust out, with eyes fixed three feet above the heads of the audience — all with just the right mixture of self-assurance and canned humility. No wonder that after all that we expect a “four score and seven years ago” that will match the perfect choreography.
Never has a president so mastered the teleprompter — no easy task in itself — with just the right pauses, followed with a timely ratcheting up of passion, punctuated with a half-smile, a grimace, a laugh. Never has a president mastered both the art of empty bluster and the art of bowing. Never has a president so mastered the patois and cadences of an intended audience: with corporate CEOs, he sounds like a Ivy League Citibank exec; with foreign-policy types, he can out-authenticate the multicultural experts with accentuation like “the Taleeeban” and “Pakeeestan.” Among African-Americans, he drops his g’s, affects the slight drawl of the South, inserts an old-time Southern colloquialism, and follows the mannerisms of a Rev. Wright thundering at Trinity Church. Among Latinos, the “r” is rolled, and accent marks fall in the proper places, better than any third-generation Latino evening-television newsreader.
In short, Obama is the most impressive sophist of his age. In classical rhetoric, when the speaker was about to equivocate, he added an emphatic adjective or parenthetical that he was never more candid and sincere. Sometimes he inserted “on the one hand / on the other hand” to show his awareness of every point of view other than his own. Rhetoricians often projected their own base motives onto others, using straw men like “some will say” or “there are those who…”, as if illiberal enemies were so ubiquitous that there was no mundane need to name them all. Obama has mastered all that and more.
He excels especially in the expression of dramatic anguish. His attorney general is “upset” that he had to resort to tapping the phone records of reporters. Barack Obama is torn because his drones sometime kill those beyond the four thousand intended. Obama is so bothered that his subordinates have gone after journalists that he wants Congress to stop him from himself, by passing a law to prevent his own team from doing what he finds politically advantageous. It is outrageous, Obama thunders, that the IRS is monitoring his political enemies — and so outrageous that the person who oversaw the illegal program had to be promoted to enforce the fiscal protocols of Obamacare. Benghazi really was a terrorist act, because the president right after the killings jailed a filmmaker for it, blamed the attack on spontaneous demonstrations — and yet in passing said he opposed generic terrorist acts. Presto — he could post facto claim that he meant all the time that Benghazi was just one of those preplanned acts of terror.