- The Washington Times - Monday, December 14, 2009


It wasn’t so long ago that Barack Obama’s speeches were being hailed as “extraordinary” “rhetorical magic” (Joe Klein in Time magazine) that should be “required reading in classrooms” (Bob Herbert in the New York Times). Pity the poor grade-schoolers who have to be on the bus at 5 a.m. for a daylong slog through the 4,000-word sludge of the president’s Nobel thank-you.

Rich Lowry, my boss at National Review, writes that Mr. Obama has become a “crashingly banal” bore. The good news is that he “is not nearly as dull as, say, Herman Van Rompuy.” Who?

Oh, come on. Herman Van Rompuy. He’s some Belgian guy recently appointed “president” of “Europe,” whatever that means. He’s hardly a household name, even in the Van Rompuy household. I’m not sure if Belgian TV has a “Belgian Idol” or “Dancing With The Belgians,” but, if so, he would be knocked out in Round One.

Nonetheless, Mr. Lowry does “President” Van Rompuy a grave injustice. The boringness is, as the computer chappies say, not a bug but a feature. Like everything in Europe, the “presidency” was a backroom stitch-up, and neither the French nor the Germans wanted a charismatic glamorpuss in the gig stealing their respective thunders. A Belgian nonentity was just what they were looking for.

Being a nondescript yawneroo was the minimum entry qualification. And, by those standards, Herman Van Rompuy is performing brilliantly.

By contrast, the point of President Obama is to dazzle. That’s why he got all the magazine covers of him emerging topless from the Hawaiian surf as if his beautifully sculpted pectorals were long-vanished Pacific atolls restored to sunlight after he had fulfilled his pledge to lower the oceans before the end of his first term. The squealing Obammyboppers of the media seem to have gotten more muted since those inaugural specials hit the newsstands back in late January. His numbers have fallen further faster than those of any other president - because of where he fell from: As Evan Thomas of Newsweek drooled a mere six months ago, Mr. Obama was “standing above the country … above the world. He’s sort of God.” That’s a long drop.

The Obama speechwriting team don’t seem to realize that. They seem to be the last guys on the planet in love with the sound of his voice and their one interminable tinny tune with its catchpenny hooks.

The usual trick is to position their man as the uniquely insightful leader pitching his tent between two extremes no sane person has ever believed: “There are those who say there is no evil in the world. There are others who argue that pink fluffy bunnies are the spawn of Satan and conspiring to overthrow civilization. Let me be clear: I believe people of good will on all sides can find common ground between the absurdly implausible caricatures I attribute to them on a daily basis. We must begin by finding the courage to acknowledge the hard truth that I am living testimony to the power of nuance to triumph over hard truth and come to the end of the sentence on a note of sonorous, polysyllabic if somewhat hollow uplift. Pause for applause.”

It didn’t come but once at Oslo last week, where Mr. Obama got a bad press for blowing off the king of Norway’s luncheon. In Mr. Obama’s honor.

Can you believe this line made it into the speech: “I do not bring with me today a definitive solution to the problems of war.”

Well, there’s a surprise. When you consider all the White House eyeballs that approve a presidential speech, it’s truly remarkable there’s no one to scribble on the first draft: “Scrub this, Fred. It makes POTUS sound like a self-aggrandizing buffoon.” It’s not even merely the content, but the stylistic tics: “I do not bring with me” - as if I, God of Evan Thomas’ Newsweek, am briefly descending to this obscure Scandinavian backwater bearing wisdom from beyond the stars.

Mr. Obama’s sagging numbers are less a regular presidential “approval rating” than a measure of the ever-widening gulf between the messianic ballyhoo and his actual performance. For Americans interested in not pre-crippling the lives of their as yet unborn children and grandchildren, his windy leave-‘em-wanting-less routine is currently one of their best friends. To return to wossname, the Belgian bloke, Van Rumpoy, just because he’s a nonentity doesn’t mean he’s not effective. In his acceptance speech the other week, he declared: “2009 is the first year of global governance.”

Did you get that memo?

Me neither. But he has a point. The upgrading of the G20 group of leading economic countries, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s plans for planetary financial regulation, and the Copenhagen summit (whose inauguration of a transnational bureaucracy to facilitate the multitrillion-dollar shakedown of functioning economies would be the biggest exercise in punitive liberalism the developed world has ever been subjected to) are all pillars of “global governance.”

Right now, if you don’t like the local grade school, you move to the next town. If you’re sick of Massachusetts taxes, you move to New Hampshire. Where do you move to if you don’t like “global governance”? To what polling station do you go to vote it out?

America has its Herman Van Rumpoys, too. Harry Reid is really the Harry Van Reidpoy of Congress. Very few people know who he is or what he does. But, while Mr. Obama continues on his stately progress from one 4,000-word dirge to the next, Mr. Reid is beavering away advancing the cause of Van Rumpoy-scalestatism. Thee news this week that the well-connected Democratic pollster, Mark Penn, received $6 million of “stimulus” money to “preserve” three jobs in his public-relations firm to work on a promotional campaign for the switch from analog to digital TV is a perfect snapshot of Big Government.

In the great sucking maw of the federal Treasury, $6 million isn’t even a rounding error. But it comes from real people - from you and anybody you know who still makes the mistake of working for a living; and, if it had been left in your pockets, you would have spent it in the real world, at a local business or in expanding your own, and maybe some way down the road it would have created some genuine jobs. Instead, it got funneled to a Democratic pitchman to preserve three non-jobs on a phony quasigovernmental PR campaign.

Big Government does that every minute of the day. When Mom ‘n’ Pop Cola of Dead Skunk Junction gets gobbled up by Coke, there are economies of scale. When real economic activity gets annexed by state and then federal government, there are no economies of scale. In fact, the very concept of “scale” disappears, so that tossing 6 million bucks away to “preserve” three already existing positions isn’t even worth complaining about.

At his jobs summit, Mr. Obama seemed, rhetorically, to show some understanding of this. But that’s where his speechifying has outlived its welcome. When it’s tough and realistic (we need to be fiscally responsible; there are times when you have to go to war in your national interest; etc), it bears no relation to any of the legislation. And, when it’s vapid and utopian, it looks absurd next to Harry Reid, Barney Frank & Co.’s sleazy opportunism.

For those of us who oppose the shriveling of liberty in both Washington and Copenhagen, a windy drone who won’t sit down keeps the spotlight on the racket. Once more from the top, Mr. Obama.

Mark Steyn is the author of the New York Times best-seller “America Alone” (Regnery, 2006).

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