"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Saturday, May 7, 2011

I, Me, My... the Rhetoric of Barack Obama

Victor Davis Hanson captured something important earlier this week about Obama's nature, as he analyzed the rhetoric of Obama's speech announcing the killing of Osama bin Laden.   Hanson, a classical scholar, noted the obvious and by-now-default mode of Obama to use the first person singular in speeches that are about his administration's or the nation's accomplishments, as if he had done it all himself:
Here are a few excerpts from President Obama’s speech on Sunday night about the killing of Osama bin Laden.
“Tonight, I can report . . . And so shortly after taking office, I directed Leon Panetta . . . I was briefed on a possible lead to bin Laden . . . I met repeatedly with my national security team . . . I determined that we had enough intelligence to take action. . . . Today, at my direction . . . I’ve made clear . . . Over the years, I’ve repeatedly made clear . . . Tonight, I called President Zardari . . . and my team has also spoken. . .These efforts weigh on me every time I, as Commander-in-Chief . . . Finally, let me say to the families . . . I know that it has, at times, frayed. . . .”
It is amazing that Obama's speechwriters haven't learned the first lesson of Presidential rhetoric.   It's found, most notably, in the Gettysburg Address:
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate—we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom— and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Presidential speeches, especially in times of national crisis or moments where national security is at stake, should always be in the first person plural, not the first person singular.  It's always about "us"; it should never be about "me."  

The narcisissm of President Obama was on full display in this truly poor speech.  Over at Ace of Spades, they've usefully compared Obama's speech with the speech of George W.  Bush announcing the capture of Saddam Hussein, in which Bush used "we" or "our" formulations almost exclusively.  Quite a contrast, one that reflects the difference between a narcissist and a man with real humility and generosity.  

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