Obama and Doing vs Being – UPDATED

Neo-neocon is wondering what has happened to Obama’s vaunted fluency?

Obama was always a fluid if vapid speechmaker, although his off-the-cuff statements featured a lot of hemming and hawing. But I’ve noticed something that seems new: hesitancy even when he speaks from a prepared text.

Obama now seems to go off-teleprompter more often—perhaps because he’s been critiqued so much for its use—and when reading from notes on a lectern he stops and starts, as well as using a tennis-match-like repetitive back and forth movement of his head.

What’s more, Obama’s disfluencies have an odd cadence, coming at times that seem unnatural, as though he’s distracted and not even thinking about what he’s saying but rather merely reading it from a text he’s never seen before. Is he nervous? Lying? Nervous about lying? Nervous about being caught in lying? Aware that the gift he’s relied on his entire life is going or perhaps even gone, now that he needs it most?

You’ll want to read it all. I am so happy to see Neo refer to Obama as a “fluid but vapid” speechmaker; hosannas from the sycophantic “this-speech-will-be-carved-in-marble” press aside, I have never found Obama’s speeches to be in any way memorable or meaningful. While campaigning, Obama is able to deliver his speeches well, but can anyone recall a single inspiring line or bit of prose beyond “yes we can,” and “let me be clear”?

Because George W. Bush could be such a trial to listen to, sometimes, I got into the habit of reading his speeches, and I always came away from them impressed by how substantive they were. When I read Obama’s speeches, I find myself thinking, “just words; lots and lots of words.” And lately, they’re not even particularly polished words.

Neo may be on to something as she wonders if Obama is simply unfamiliar with the material, or disinterested, or worried. And certainly this president, for a young, athletic man, is exhibiting a worrisome lack of stamina for his job. But I suspect that Obama’s listless speechifying is betraying a restless impatience. I suspect Obama is bored with being president, and it’s not because he is too smart for the office, but because the office is too much like real work.

I suspect all he ever wanted was the campaign glory (though not the inconvenience of interrupted waffles), the adoring headlines, and the ability to pick up a phone and ask for anything he wants without hearing a “no” on the other end.

I suspect that what Obama wanted was to be the King, not the President. The King’s role is largely ceremonial. In time of national tragedy the King goes before the camera and says, “this is very sad.” If he can assign blame on a perceived enemy he does so, and then he steps aside and retires to his amusements while those actually in charge clean up the mess and determine how to prevent future messes. Everyone loves the King, defers to the King, rushes to do for the King, but the King -who tends to get bored and distracted by the dry business of actually governing- is responsible for very little, and most are just as glad of it.

If a King is on vacation and his country encounters an critical issue, he knows there is no need to come jetting back to the palace, because the Prime Minister is taking care of reality. All the King needs to do is -in a day or three- show up at a microphone in casual dress and do the PR work of expressing concern over the issue and confidence in the government. The King can command instant coverage, even if there is only time for audio.

A King does not worry, so much, about representative governance, since it is irrelevent to his standing.

Sadly, though, America is not in need of his Kingship.

America needs a good old-fashioned President:

I miss old-fashioned American presidents; flawed men who had no allusions that they were perfect. Men who (in Clinton’s case) needed to be loved too much and (in Bush’s case) didn’t need it enough, but who still, for all the personal and political mistakes, were simply trying to lead America, not to rule it, or “remake” it or “save” it from its stiff-necked, fussy, independent, generous, vulgar, valiant, dreaming, energetic, creative, preening, heroic, world-leading, free and glorious self.

Bring back the flawed human president who we were free to love or hate without reserve, fear or condemnation, because the target was strong enough to take it. The president who could sometimes be petty but sometimes be pretty damned gracious, too. The president who could make a mistake at a doorway and laugh about it, and whom the press did not have to protect from the passing mockery such a mistake would bring.

I miss having an American President who could describe himself – as Clinton once did – as “a punching clown; you punch me and I’m bounce right back up and into your face;” or a president who could, with ironic self awareness describe himself as “misunderestimated.” America needs a guy who can laugh at himself and take the nation’s chaffing with a shrug, instead of a godling of the press’ needy creation, one “too perfect to be mocked”.

So, we have a King. But we haven’t a Prime Minister. Mrs. Pelosi won’t do, nor will Mr. Reid. We need a president.

Vanderleun: The Emperor’s New Speech Impediment

DO listen to Obama’s audio statement. It is rushed -in some places he is reading so quickly he is almost slurring his words- and perfunctory-sounding. He is saying what needs to be said, but in a very pissed off, I-am-saying-these-things-because-it-is-getting-hot-and-I-must-say-them-now-let-me-get-back-to-my-waffle-damnyouall tone. Very reassuring.

UPDATE II: Krauthammer not having any of what Obama was selling yesterday. Interested in hearing what he has to say about today’s audio.

Some interesting thoughts on what is Bush’s fault, from Bizzy Blog and more here

Dick Cheney: Not having any

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Janice

    Precisely. Nail on the head as usual. Love your writing.

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  • Ruth H

    I’ve wondered why Saturday Night Live has not picked up to that swing of the head- back and forth from one telepromter to the other. As for the “lyrical cadence” I call it a hesitancy in reading from one telepromter to the other. I do think people seem to be realizing he may not be quite as clever as they thought. I don’t know that he is lazy, I just think he is unable to actually know what to do without being told what, when and where to talk, do or direct.

  • Andrew B

    What I found so interesting about President Bush was that, while his speeches could be a chore to listen to, he was pretty good off the cuff. This was especially true around September 11th, when he seemed to be able to say the right thing most of the time.

    President Obama, in contrast, seems to stumble over relatively simple statements. Very curious.

    [Perhaps it comes down to genuineness. Bush seemed to speak from the heart. Obama does not show his heart, so he is hard to know -admin]

  • Johanne

    Sorry, posted my comment in the next commentary – as Russell in UP says, “Oops!”

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  • http://www.frugal-cafe.com/public_html/frugal-blog/frugal-cafe-blogzone/ ClassicFilm

    To Andrew B: Ditto to that.

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  • Jack

    That clipped cadence he has does seem to be an afffectation at this point. Very annoying to listen to. He strikes me as someone who is listening to how he sounds first and foremost, rather than someone who is trying sincerely to communicate.

  • http://thecatholiclibertarian.blogspot.com Anthony

    “It’s good to be the king”

    My theory is that Obama never thought he would be nominated. He would get the VP slot or maybe not. Then spend the next 3-6 years in the Senate, brushing up on things, jetting around the world giving nice inspirational speeches then running again in 2012 (if the GOP won) or 2016 or even 2020 (if HRC won). In 2020 he still would be south of 60.

    I think that is the reason he waited so long to jetison Wright, Ayers and the rest. He figured he had more time and still needed them in Chicago.

    I just have this feeling that he won the nomination and had something of a “now what” moment. Hence getting Biden to add some gravitas, but not to be an actual rival to him.

    I see lots of folks ascribing all these malevolent motives to teh president. My theory is that he is not an evil socialist, he is Chauncey Gardiner.

  • Clacker

    Even if Obama were king, he’d still stink. A real king is capable of inspiring his subjects. George VI did so in his Christmas Broadcast of 1939. Obama can only dream of delivering such a magnificent speech. And George had a horrendous speech impediment, too. Read this and weep, Mr. President Who Would be King:

    “The festival which we know as Christmas is above all the festival of peace and of the home. Among all free peoples the love of peace is profound, for this alone gives security to the home. But true peace is in the hearts of men, and it is the tragedy of this time that there are powerful countries whose whole direction and policy are based on aggression and the suppression of all that we hold dear for mankind.

    “It is this that has stirred our peoples and given them a unity unknown in any previous war. We feel in our hearts that we are fighting against wickedness, and this conviction will give us strength from day to day to persevere until victory is assured.

    “At home we are, as it were, taking the strain for what may lie ahead of us, resolved and confident. We look with pride and thankfulness on the never-failing courage and devotion of the Royal Navy, upon which, throughout the last four months, has burst the storm of ruthless and unceasing war.

    “And when I speak of our Navy today, I mean all the men of our Empire who go down to the sea in ships, the Mercantile Marine, the mine-sweepers, the trawlers and drifters, from the senior officers to the last boy who has joined up. To every one in this great Fleet I send a message of gratitude and greeting, from myself as from all my peoples.

    “The same message I send to the gallant Air Force which, in co-operation with the Navy, is our sure shield of defence. They are daily adding laurels to those that their fathers won.

    “I would send a special word of greeting to the Armies of the Empire, to those who have come from afar, and in particular to the British Expeditionary Force. Their task is hard. They are waiting, and waiting is a trial of nerve and discipline. But I know that when the moment comes for action they will prove themselves worthy of the highest traditions of their great Service.

    “And to all who are preparing themselves to serve their country, on sea or land or in the air, I send my greeting at this time. The men and women of our far-flung Empire working in their several vocations, with the one same purpose, all are members of the great Family of Nations which is prepared to sacrifice everything that freedom of spirit may be saved to the world.

    “Such is the spirit of the Empire; of the great Dominions, of India, of every Colony, large or small. From all alike have come offers of help, for which the Mother Country can never be sufficiently grateful. Such unity in aim and in effort has never been seen in the world before.

    “I believe from my heart that the cause which binds together my peoples and our gallant and faithful Allies is the cause of Christian civilisation. On no other basis can a true civilisation be built. Let us remember this through the dark times ahead of us and when we are making the peace for which all men pray.

    “A new year is at hand. We cannot tell what it will bring. If it brings peace, how thankful we shall all be. If it brings us continued struggle we shall remain undaunted. In the meantime I feel that we may all find a message of encouragement in the lines which, in my closing words, I would like to say to you:

    I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year,
    “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
    And he replied,
    “Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the Hand of God.
    “That shall be to you better than light, and safer than a known way!”

    “May that Almighty Hand guide and uphold us all.”

  • P. F. Hawkins

    While this is at this point pretty speculative, there are rumors that the President is suffering from Parkinson’s, which could explain some of his tics.


  • Maureen

    Obama reminds me of Princess Diana – she was always keen on talking about duty etc., but when it came down to it – duty was boring and if she was bored, then she moved onto something else (unlike Queen Elizabeth and the Queen Mum who have pushed through 80 years plus of duty!!).

    I suspect Obama really thought being President was going to be a cakewalk, considering his political experience was pretty limited but cheered endlessly and his executive experience is nil. I was recently interviewing individuals for an Executive Director position and it was amazing the number of applicants who had really strange ideas about what an Executive Director actually did. Yes, sometimes the role was fun, particularly when traveling to national events was involved, but a lot of the time it is a hard and tedious work, alone at your desk at 7 p.m. when all the other staff have gone home, and you still have to come up with decisions that everyone is waiting for you to make.

    Obama needs to wake up and get to work – set some priorities, crack the whip on staff, and learn some basic management approaches.

  • Don

    “But we haven’t a Prime Minister” – so well said and so very scary…

  • lethargic

    ” … can anyone recall a single inspiring line or bit of prose beyond “yes we can,” and “let me be clear”?”

    How about “understand this” while pointing at us all with one finger? Drove me nutso. Makes for a fine inside joke with my kids, tho.

  • Steve G

    Oh, for the good old days when all I had to do was vote “Present” and I knew I had done a good job. This terrorism stuff is tedious and boring and is a distraction from my health care plan. Why can’t these people just go away? Can’t they see I am on their side? Michelle, where are my BVDs?

  • Liz

    “I suspect that what Obama wanted was to be the King, not the President. The King’s role is largely ceremonial.”

    I think you’re right. I also think that Obama is fundamentally unsuited to the American system. There’s a distinction in most European systems, where, to put it simply, the President represents the state and the Prime Minister the government. I suspect Obama would be quite good at the former, which is essentially an ambassadorial role. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with his interests and abilities pointing that way. It’s when he gets the power of the Prime Minister that he starts to scare me.

    Nicholas II, the last Czar of Russia, is widely agreed to have been perfectly suited for a ceremonial role. He simply could not handle the power of being an actual leader. He keeps coming into my mind when I see Obama.

  • M. Miller

    I think there are several things: Obama thought being president of the US was going to be like a four-year campaign; you can’t just vote “present” as president as he did so many times in the Senate; there are evil people in the world who want to the harm to the US regardless of who’s president; Chicago-style politics won’t play at the national level; and even the sycophantic media eventually tires of his inanity.

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  • Maria

    He is not in Cambridge anymore. Hello, this is the real world. Maybe having had a real job in the world is helpful afterall, if you want to be President. Could someone get a memo to the King: after an attempted terrorist attack, it might be a good idea to get back to the Mainland. Be a man and suit up for the job.

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  • Bender

    is Obama simply unfamiliar with the material, or disinterested, or worried

    All of the above.

    POSUS is in way over his head, and he knows it.

  • http://PatrickofAtlantis.com Patrick Of Atlantis

    I too have never been impressed with Obama’s speeches and he has the same irritating habit that Bush has of using only one indefinite article. The word ‘an’ doesn’t seem to be in their vocabulary.
    ‘Vapid’ is a good word to describe Obama’s speech, that and ‘sophomoric.

  • DaveW

    [Perhaps it comes down to genuineness. Bush seemed to speak from the heart. Obama does not show his heart, so he is hard to know -admin]

    Spot on, I think.

    I’ve long pondered the role of speechifying in folks getting elected President. I used to think it was very important but Bush proved me wrong there.

    The thing about Bush was he had a foundation of belief (or set of beliefs) that allowed him to speak off the cuff and usually what came out of his mouth was something that didn’t have to be retracted later because, well, it came from the heart.

    Obama is a different beast entirely. He is completely at home behind the teleprompter, able to produce exactly the right tone and inflection, melodious, calm, soothing. But when he’s forced off his prepared remarks or rushed there’s no telling what may come out of his mouth.

    No telling because almost a year into this man’s Presidency we still don’t know what he really thinks or who he is, except by inference and assumption.

    And that’s a very disturbing thing. I understand how he mesmerized a majority into voting for him over a couple months of the general election campaign. I never dreamed that this deep into his Presidency we still wouldn’t know what makes him tick.

  • Doc

    Remember, in the Democrats quest to make our enemies love us, dead Americans are acceptable collateral damage. Obama would rather a dozen planeloads of US citizens drop from the sky than instruct our security personel to focus on Muslims entering the country.

    The man does not love this country. He wants to remake it. As Dennis Prager said, one does not want to remake what one thinks is good.

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  • Acer Palmatum

    Thank you Anchoress for your clarity.

  • DeLynn

    Anchoress—wonderful blog post.

    *I do think BHO wants to be a king, not a president. Excellent point. He doesn’t want to work, certainly doesn’t want to work hard like he needs to. He is such an elitist.

    *I am thrilled to hear you address his speaking. It is very difficult to be objective—though I have tried hard. I find him a chore to listen to—his cadence is grating. Watching and listening is torture. It has always been a puzzlement to me why people think he is such a wonderful speaker–neither the content nor the style are beguiling.

    *Can you believe that we have a president with a large scar on his head about which we know nothing? (Saw your tweet last night.) Amazing!

    *You mentioned in response to someone’s comment a question about BHO’s genuineness. Who is BHO? What moves him? He is SO cold. I am not at all sure what is in his heart.

  • Rich Fader

    Barack Obama is no George VI. And to put it mildly, Michelle Obama is no Queen (Mother) Elizabeth.

    “I’m almost glad we’ve been bombed. Now I can look the East End in the face.”

    “The Princesses will not leave without me, I will not leave without the King, and the King will never leave…”

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  • Jeffrey Quick

    “Sadly, though, America is not in need of his Kingship.”
    But America needs a King. You know which One I mean.

  • silverpie

    “The children will not leave unless I do. I shall not leave unless their father does, and the King will not leave the country in any circumstances whatsoever.” Even better put than you remembered, but the sentiment comes through either way. (And the first didn’t have an “almost” in it, otherwise exact.)

  • SallyJune

    First class post, and first class comments. You are a wonderful balance to all the stridency elsewhere. No wonder this blog is my cyber-home! (I can curl up by the fire, right?)

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  • Maureen

    The only time Obama has spoken from his heart is when he decided to get involved with the local incident between the professor and the police officer. Unfortunately that was not what he was elected for.

  • Brigid Elson

    Clacker, what a magnificent speech by George VI! As for George W Bush, he had a brilliant speech writer, and as President he delivered these speeches in a Presidential manner. And he was the only speaker at the Reagan church service to mention the hope of the Resurrection.

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  • emjay

    I am deeply uncomfortable with speculations about a public figure that are so partisan and based on not substance but a general feeling of distaste for the president’s partisan leanings.

    But then, the right-wing half of our sole political party has been keen on picking at motes in the eyes of the left-wing half while ignoring the beams in their own eyes of late. This being yet another such example.

  • Doc

    Sorry, emjay, I’m deeply uncomfortable with the deception that we only have one political party in this country. There are vast differences between our 2 parties. There are also those who pretend to rise above the fray, inferring that all who engage in the muck of modern politics are morally inferior.

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