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When he arrived about 50 minutes late, his face was ashen and he looked sour. His economy had been downgraded — a first in American history. And the stock market was down another 300 points since morning.

He spoke in the strange, halting manner that has become his painful recent norm.

His skinny head swiveled back and forth like a skull on a pivot, following windshield wiper blades.

He read a string of words off the teleprompter to his left, then paused while his head swiveled to read another string of words off the teleprompter on his right before swiveling back again to the left.

It is the choppy cadence of a child struggling to learn how to read. The halted pace is so slow that comprehension is sometimes lost and he has to stop, back up and take another run at it.

With no music or poetry, Mr. Obama is left grasping for the most barbaric of rhetorical tools, hacking away with class warfare, blaming everyone but himself and offering no vision for fixing this mess. Then tacking onto the end a tinny message about troops who have died.

You have global chaos, market terror and brave Americans who died in a far-off land fighting for American freedom. If ever there was a moment for magic and inspiring oratory, it would be now.

These are the moments great men live for and for which great speeches are made. Just imagine what the Barack Obama of 2008 would have done with such a moment.

Sadly, it turns out that was just a mirage. Something we wanted to see. Now, he has lost his nerve. He has gone mute. And he stuttered through a sorry speech that tanked the markets another 300 points.

Charles Hurt’s column appears Wednesday. He can be reached at