January 25, 2011

Mr. Smooth

It's interesting to watch something like the State of the Union on a live feed without commentators talking over the audio. I could hear what President Obama was saying as he entered the House chamber, undiluted by Chris Matthews telling me that "the President can really work a room." He can, but I was able to figure that out better without Chris's help. Obama, like a lot of upbeat extroverts, seems to take energy from human interaction, in the same way Bill Clinton did. You could see with George W. Bush that the whole process was pretty wearing. He just wanted to crawl into bed, or maybe into a whiskey bottle.

The O man is a master of the small, personalized comment, the bro-hug, the chaste kiss on the cheek (particularly of the women of color in government), the back-pat, the handshake that swings into position in a roundhouse loop. He's charming and he puts people at their ease, and watching him up close (with no Chris Matthews in your ear), you got a palpable sense of his charisma. He's the goods, alright. Particularly in a room full of nerds and geeks, Barack Obama stands out as an actual guy.

As for the speech, well, what the hell can you say about a speech anymore? It was fine. Barack doesn't try to scale the rhetorical heights these days. He's above average in his delivery, his timing and cadence are good, but he's left off from the old style Baptist Revival stemwinding. Anyway, it's hard to get too worked up over stuff like spending freezes - the phrases sort of die on delivery.

Like a lot of charming, intellectually shifty operators, the President doesn't betray any kind of embarrassment over obvious reversals in his position or his adoption of the rhetoric of the former opposition. Indeed, this has become something of an Obama trademark. Take, for example, what he had to say about Iraq:

Look to Iraq, where nearly 100,000 of our brave men and women have left with their heads held high; where American combat patrols have ended; violence has come down; and a new government has been formed. This year, our civilians will forge a lasting partnership with the Iraqi people, while we finish the job of bringing our troops out of Iraq. America's commitment has been kept; the Iraq War is coming to an end.

This looks innocuous enough, even meaningless, but consider for a moment: Obama ran for office declaring that the Iraq war was a "dumb war." He was certainly right about that. What "commitment" did we keep? We invaded Iraq because the Bush Administration told us that otherwise the bad news might arrive "in the form of a mushroom cloud." Remember? We invaded Iraq because of its nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, not as an exercise in nation building. It appears to me that Obama is conceding, as he has on other points concerning the Great War on Terror, that Bush and Cheney were right all along and he was wrong.

Then there's this:

We are living with a legacy of deficit-spending that began almost a decade ago. And in the wake of the financial crisis, some of that was necessary to keep credit flowing, save jobs, and put money in people's pockets.

Not quite, Mr. President. Why is Obama carrying Ronald Reagan's water? That's where the big impetus to deficit financing began, not "almost a decade ago." It was Reagan's administration which, after sharply increasing FICA taxes, began raiding that very surplus created, a wholesale thievery which continued until the system could simply not produce a surplus any longer. $2.55 trillion later, however. It was Reagan who decided to ignore Dwight Eisenhower's warning about the "military industrial complex" and switch the country over completely to "military Keynesianism." Granted, the deficits and the national debt are now totally out of control, and our only hope for funding ourselves is to engage in Ponzi schemes like the Federal Reserve's massive purchasing of our own debt. But this was a problem created over a three decade era, not just in recent years.

Ah well, I think in many ways Mr. Obama is a man for our season, a sunny optimist with a nice list of bromides and a charming way of delivering them. Americans don't really want to hear the truth anyway, and if we're going to be lied to, then we may as well hear it from such a natural crowd pleaser. He makes us feel good about ourselves, even when there's absolutely no reason to feel that way.

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