Warriors live by the sword and die by the sword. Politicians live by the speech. And they die by the speech.
The most shocking thing about President Obama’s political implosion from bright supernova to deadened black hole has been the complete undoing of his ability to speak.
Remember when he was famous for speaking? Voters by the tens of thousands would gather for hours in the rain to hear him speak.
More than 80,000 people streamed into the Denver Broncos arena to hear Mr. Obama deliver his nomination-acceptance speech. Standing on the tippy-top of Mile High Stadium, you could see lines of people snaking in from miles away. It looked like something from Roman times.
And he did not disappoint.
Liberals literally swooned at his voice. Independents wept at the visions he unfurled, the barriers he crushed into ancient rubble. Even many Republicans could not help but get caught up in Obamamania.
Today, it is hard even to remember that magic.
Gaunt and gray, he looks like he needs a cigarette. Real bad.
Gone is the soaring rhetoric and promising tone. Absent is that special credibility he once held with voters who saw him as an adult promising to bring some common sense to Washington.
That winning audacity has been replaced by stiff irritability. Hopeful visions have given way to scolding lectures.
Watching him speak now is like watching Meat Loaf crash around onstage, all fat and sweaty, crooning his old love songs and trying to catch a spark — only to faint onstage, be revived by medics and insist on finishing his show.
It is desperation defined.
Even if you don’t particularly like Mr. Obama and disagree with just about everything he says, you can’t help but cringe for him as he stumbles about, missing all his notes, pausing in midair, staring into the lights, confused by the teleprompter.
After hiding out for a weekend of economic and military turmoil, Mr. Obama faced the cameras Monday for one of his saddest performances.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.