DUNN LORING, VA — For some years now, the American media have
marveled at what they called the eloquence and sheer oratorical genius
of Barack Obama. He first won national attention with his speech to
the 2004 Democratic Convention, which marked him as a rising star of
the party; four years later, after the November 2008 election, he became
the first candidate of African blood to gain the White House.
His most impressive performance, it is widely agreed, was his March
18, 2008, speech on race. It disarmed the critical faculties even of
such a normally caustic pundit as Maureen Dowd of The New York Times,
who hailed it for what she deemed its depth and brilliance. This surprised
me, for I’d heard part of it on radio, and it had struck me at
the time as trite and incoherent. To this day, he has never produced
a single memorable apothegm.
A close look at the text of the 2008 race speech the other day more
than confirmed my first impression. Obama has been a beneficiary of
what G.W. Bush used to call “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” He
is the first man to be propelled all the way to the presidency by white
condescension. (Reminding us how, two decades ago, unwary male journalists
were dazzled by Hillary Clinton’s intellect.) The first thing
to be noted about this speech is its utter lack of originality, of
either phrase or insight.
Here are a few brief samples of his way with words: “America’s
improbable experiment in democracy… stained by this nation’s
original sin of slavery…. I believe deeply that we cannot solve
the challenges of our time unless we solve them together…. This
belief comes from my unyielding faith in the decency and generosity
of the American people… [W]e all want to move in the same direction – towards
a better future for our children and our grandchildren.”
As usual, Obama contrasts the decent and generous “American
people” with the greedy and selfish “special interests
in Washington.” There seems to be little or no overlap between
these two categories.
He illustrates his unyielding faith by citing his favorite Bible stories, “the
stories of David and Goliath, Moses and Pharaoh, the Christians in
the lion’s [sic] den” -- oops! That one’s not in
the Bible. Maybe Obama is mixing up the story of Daniel in the lions’ den
with later accounts of Christians being thrown to the lions.
This is not meant to be an exhaustive recitation of Obama’s
gaffes, but one more demands our attention: “Let us be our brother’s
keeper, Scripture tells us. Let us be our sister’s keeper. Let
us find that common stake we all have in one another,” etc.
Here the president is alluding to the story of Cain and Abel, evidently
forgetting that Cain slays Abel; and when the Lord asks Cain where
Abel is, Cain replies insolently,
“I know not; am I my brother’s keeper?” This is far
from a moral exhortation; on the contrary, it’s more like a sarcasm: “How
should I know where he is? I’m not his babysitter!”
Obama delivered this masterpiece, as you may recall, to save his skin
when his boorish pastor, Jeremiah Wright, had stirred up the hornets
with his fiery sermons (“God damn America!”). It worked,
because Obama’s slick delivery (he makes Bill Clinton sound like
an endearingly pitiful rube) drew press attention away from his blunders
and non sequiturs.
And besides, how many journalists know the Bible? Most of them may
be gullible enough to think there is a Bible story of early Christians
in some lion’s den, or to suppose that “brother’s
keeper” signifies fraternal affection. They aren’t noted
for literacy, and they’d probably notice nothing amiss if Mark
Antony said: “Friends, Romans, countrymen, loan me your ears.”
Obama praised Wright as “a man who helped introduce me to my
That would explain a lot about his absurdly mangled version of the
faith he professes. The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose, Shakespeare
tells us; but surely the devil could do it more adroitly than Obama.
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