Barack Obama is bored. You can see it in his demeanor and in his face, the way anticipation becomes melancholy. Most of all you can hear it in his voice when he steps up to make the speech that once sent audiences into frenzy. He’s mailing it in (with postage due).
Being a messiah, a rock star, the Pied Piper of Hamelin, is of course hard work. Maybe we should cut the guy a break. You can’t be Mick Jagger or Kanye West every day.
The president went to Illinois this week to make a speech about the economy and jobs that the White House hyped as something to remind everyone of William Jennings Bryan (“Cross of Gold”) or at least Winston Churchill (“we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills”). What everyone got was a speech to put Michelle to sleep. The president himself seemed to be dozing between the words 10 minutes into the speech.
The bad news is that this was the first in what the White House calls “a new series” of speeches, and a few of the president’s favorite acolytes of the press and tube were called in to get a preview of what was coming once the president and his teleprompter arrived at Knox College. He may imagine he needs new speechwriters, but the speechwriters need new material.
Some of the speech the college kids got sounded almost like a valedictory. He doesn’t talk about George W. as much as he once did; invoking Herbert Hoover wouldn’t work, either, nor would invocations of the Panic of ‘93 (that president, Grover Cleveland, was a Democrat). The Panic of ‘73 would be a possibility, but recruiting a scapegoat from two centuries back, even a Republican, would be a stretch, even with Mr. Obama’s gifts.
So he settled for a little fiction, beginning with the ritual and familiar attack on “the 1 percent,” who before he arrived were devouring all the gravy amidst “a housing bubble, credit cards and a churning financial sector.” That was the not-so-subtle George W. reference. “Now, today, five years after the start of the Great Recession, America has fought its way back. Together we saved the auto industry, took on a broken health care system. We invested in new American technologies to reverse our addiction to foreign oil. We doubled wind and solar power.”
This was a campaign speech that was gathering dust on a shelf in the White House basement, brought out for a president with nothing to say. He could have explained why his administration has not helped in the reversing of the addiction to foreign oil, or won’t approve the Keystone pipeline that would make much of the oil from the Middle East unnecessary.
His remarks consumed an hour and six minutes, longer than all his State of the Union speeches save one; it only seemed longer than all the previous State of the Union speeches put together. There was more comment about length than about content. Long speeches, like long sermons, are always the sign that the bloviator doesn’t have much to say but doesn’t know how to turn his mouth off, and is determined to say it anyway. The sound of his voice is still sweet in his own ears.
There was the usual pie in the sky, but the whipped cream seemed to be going sour. He would “rebuild run-down neighborhoods” (like the neighborhoods he once promised to rebuild in Detroit), he would put every 4-year-old in a kindergarten (or whatever we’re calling kindergarten this year), and he would offer “a vital support system for working parents,” which smells like a promise to find a government baby sitter for every child, cost be darned.
Hard to believe, but Mr. Obama’s second term has hardly begun. He reminded us that he’s down to the last 1,200 days of his presidency. That no doubt seems a bittersweet number to him, but merely bitter for the rest of us.
In his boredom, he has divided the races in a remarkable way. A poll from The Wall Street Journal-NBC News finds that only 52 percent of white Americans think race relations are good, against 38 percent of blacks, down from 79 percent and 63 percent, respectively. The president’s irresponsible exploitation of the George Zimmerman murder trial has driven those numbers down.
Playing with race in America is always irresponsible, even for a president. It’s like smoking in a fireworks factory. That could be exciting, but boredom is better.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.