Saturday, May 02, 2009

Obama's talent: Léger de main

Mark Steyn, "Obama looks moderate, acts radical" (Orange County Register, May 1, 2009):
We're still in the first hundred days of the joyous observances of Barack Obama's first hundred days, and many weeks of celebration lie ahead, so here are my thoughts:

President Obama's strongest talent is not his speechifying, which is frankly a bit of a snoozeroo. In Europe, he left 'em wanting less pretty much every time (headline from Britain's Daily Telegraph: "Barack Obama Really Does Go On A Bit"). That uptilted chin combined with the left-right teleprompter neck swivel you can set your watch by makes him look like an emaciated Mussolini umpiring an endless rally of high lobs on Centre Court at Wimbledon. Each to his own, but I don't think those who routinely hail him as the greatest orator since Socrates actually sit through many of his speeches.

On the other hand, if you just caught a couple of minutes of last Wednesday's press conference, you'd be impressed. When that groupie from The New York Times asked the president about what, during his first hundred days, "had surprised you the most … enchanted you the most … humbled you the most and troubled you the most", Obama made a point of getting out his pen, writing it down and repeating back the multiple categories: "Enchanted," he said. "Nice." Indeed. Some enchanted evening, you may see a stranger, you may see a stranger across a crowded room, but then he scribbles down your multipart question to be sure he gets it right, and he looks so thoughtful, and suddenly he's not a stranger anymore, and the sound of his laughter will ring in your dreams.

The theater of thoughtfulness is critical to the president's success. He has the knack of appearing moderate while acting radical, which is a lethal skill. The thoughtful look suckered many of my more impressionable conservative comrades last fall, when David Brooks and Christopher Buckley were cranking out gushing paeans to Obama's "first-class temperament" – temperament being to the Obamacons what Nick Jonas' hair is to a Tiger Beat reporter. But the drab reality is that the man they hail – Brooks & Buckley, I mean; not the Tiger Beat crowd – is a fantasy projection. There is no Obama The Sober Centrist, although it might make a good holiday song:
"Obama The Sober Centrist
Had a very thoughtful mien
And if you ever saw it
You would say it's peachy keen …"
And it is. But underneath the thoughtful look is a transformative domestic agenda that represents a huge annexation of American life by an ever more intrusive federal government. One cannot but admire the singleminded ruthlessness with which Obama is getting on with it, even as he hones his contemplative unhurried moderate routine on prime time news conferences. On foreign affairs, the shtick is less effective, but mainly because he's not so engaged by the issues: He's got big plans for health care, and federalized education, and an eco-friendly government-run automobile industry – and Iran's nuclear program just gets in the way. He'd rather not think about it, and his multicontinental apology tours are his way of kicking the can down the road until that blessed day when America is just another sclerotic Euro-style social democracy, and even your more excitable jihadi won't be able to jump up and down chanting "Death to the Great Satan!" with a straight face.
Read the other half of the article here.

[Hat tip to S.K.]


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