In his previous Oval Office address, the one on BP, Obama chopped the air with his hands, a style of gesticulation most presidents reserve for ropeline hackery in a campaign season. One of Obama’s advisers evidently told him to knock it off, and so in this week’s Oval Office address on Iraq, he carefully clasped his hands together. This is what passes for presidential growth.
“Operation Iraqi Freedom” ended not with a bang but with a whimper. One would think a seven-and-a-half-year war deserves more than a seventeen-and-a-half-minute speech, and Obama couldn’t even feign interest or stay on topic for that brief period of time on Tuesday. He was clearly phoning it in, itching to “turn the page” back to himself. His plans, his agenda for America, the blah, blah, blah of “jumpstarted” industries, “innovation” unleashed, a “growing” middle class, all of which was code in the speech for more of his statism — these are the subjects he regards as urgent.
The only pages he turns with any real interest are the ones he rereads in his two memoirs and his dog-eared copy of Rules for Radicals. Bored and annoyed by having to talk about the success of a surge in Iraq that he opposed, Obama lamely tried to change topics. Basic decency would have told almost any other president to refrain from slipping a stump speech into an address about the sacrifice of America’s troops. But Obama, prodded by panicky Democrats and his own restless egotism, couldn’t restrict himself to just that and attempted the crassest of connections: that military heroism abroad should inspire a redoubling of Obamaism at home:
“And so at this moment, as we wind down the war in Iraq, we must tackle those challenges at home with as much energy, and grit, and sense of common purpose as our men and women in uniform who have served abroad. They have met every test that they faced. Now, it’s our turn. Now, it’s our responsibility to honor them by coming together, all of us, and working to secure the dream that so many generations have fought for — the dream that a better life awaits anyone who is willing to work for it and reach for it.”
This is the euphemistic equivalent of Joe Biden saying that the submission of Americans to higher and higher taxes is “patriotic.” “We” will do this, “we” will do that, Obama droned on. But who is “we”? We means he. He will jack up domestic spending to benefit the special interests of the Democratic Party and “we” will have to pay for it.
Not that anyone should expect logical consistency from him at this point, but one line in the speech invites an obvious question: If, according to him, war should not be paid for on a credit card — “We spent a trillion dollars at war, often financed by borrowing from overseas,” he said — why is he launching a phony new debt-financed war on unemployment? Why is a trillion dollars that we don’t have foolish to borrow for war but smart to borrow for “stimulus”?
Anytime a politician talks, as Obama did in this speech, about giving Americans “the education they deserve” and the “skills they need to compete in a global economy,” he is talking about deficit spending. And who exactly would be giving these beleaguered Americans the education they deserve and struggling entrepreneurs the skills to flourish in global free markets? Obama’s Department of Education officials who trotted off to the Al Sharpton rally last weekend? The socialists sprinkled throughout his administration and agencies who have never held a private-sector job in their lives let alone created one? Department of Energy officials who consider the very creation of wealth and expansion of economies to be bad for the environment?
Obama’s speech on Tuesday was reminiscent of the one he gave to dozing cadets at West Point last year. In that address, he complained about the distracting burdens of the presidency and drew a strained connection between “national security and our economy,” by which he meant a ballooning federal government.
The core responsibilities of the presidency, from protecting America’s borders to defeating her enemies, leave him cold while the bogus and reckless ones he invents for it occupy his attention. He says that he abhors nation-building. But that’s not true. There is one nation he wishes very much to change at its foundation — his own.