Monday, July 7, 2008
Conventional wisdom holds that the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, Sen. Barack Obama, is the greatest American orator since Daniel Webster.
Any opinion to the contrary is drowned by a sea of praise, as pundits spend an average of 40 seconds enthusing over Obama's speaking style before addressing his actual words.
If Obama were to belch the alphabet, he would not get past B without being interrupted by applause.
On the left and right, everyone "knows" that Obama is an inspiring and extraordinary speaker. From Chris Matthews's famously trembling leg to Jonah Goldberg's assessment that Obama "constructs cathedrals with his words," approbation pours in from all sides.
A less benighted observer may find Obama to be insufferable. With his chin in the air, humourlessly holding forth from on high, he appears the very picture of pomposity. And without a script, he makes George W. Bush sound like Demosthenes.
Listen to Obama taking interview or debate questions. There are far more "ums" and "ahs" per square inch than one would expect from a candidate who knows what he believes and where he wants to take the free world.
Coupled with this are pregnant pauses, presumably meant to portray thoughtful sophistication.
This is the cadence of the faculty lounge, which is fitting, since this is also where most of his far-left policies originate.
During one primary debate, CNN's Wolf Blitzer asked Obama to clarify his position on giving driver's licences to illegal aliens -- 15 days after Hillary Clinton had bobbled the same question.
Obama showed Blitzer his palms as if in surrender and haltingly began, "I am not proposing that that's what we do..."
The debate audience hooted him down at once (this was previous to the Obama campaign memo that any criticism or mockery of the man would be considered racism).
Even Blitzer evinced some impatience, commenting, "This question is available for a yes or no answer."
The crowd erupted with laughter at Obama's expense.
Herein lay an object lesson for the young senator: When you are a liberal Democrat and media darling and even Wolf Blitzer is scoring off you, it is time to work on your debate skills.
To his credit, Obama himself seems to recognize this limitation. His opponent, Sen. John McCain, has proposed that they meet in a series of 10 town hall-style debates leading up to the November election.
McCain thrives in such a forum, taking questions and interacting with regular voters. Obama, meanwhile, is most at home on a raised platform, reading from a teleprompter to an enraptured and unquestioning audience, at least some of whom (especially journalists) experience spasmodic fits at his every syllable.
With these relative strengths and weaknesses in mind, Obama has laid down more conditions for debating with McCain than for meeting with the president of Iran.
But these are mostly matters of style. For all his shady associations and halting prose, the most condemnatory aspect of Obama's campaign is the sheer awfulness of his policies themselves.
From raising taxes across the board to negotiating unconditionally with the world's most vicious regimes, he is a font of bad ideas.
Let the man speak, and let the nation have clarity on just what President Obama would do.