At Friday’s East Room Q&A, President Obama weighed in on the Manhattan imam’s plan to build a mosque at Ground Zero (an “inalienable right”) and the Florida preacher who had threatened to burn the Koran (“that’s a problem”). It was his first press conference since May, which proves not that he doesn’t like to talk but that he doesn’t like to talk to people who talk back.
Barack Obama is America’s first lecturer-in-chief.
His detractors once admired his skills as a rhetorician. Now even his supporters wish he would shut up once in a while.
A local disorderly conduct charge against Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates compelled the President to declare that “the Cambridge police acted stupidly” in one breath, as he conceded “I don’t know all the facts” in another. Kanye West is a “jackass,” Obama opined in the aftermath of the rapper’s stage-crashing antics at last year’s Video Music Awards. In March, he spoke up about a golfer’s personal problems: “Tiger has acknowledged that he betrayed his family.”
He has broken precedent by singling out a media outlet for abuse and by launching a politicized attack on the Supreme Court at the State of the Union. The Fox News Channel, he opined last summer, is “one television station that is entirely devoted to attacking my administration.”
At this year’s State of the Union, he treated High Court justices as props by claiming that “the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests” by ruling for free speech in Citizens United v. FEC.
Professional wit Dorothy Parker famously informed Calvin Coolidge of her bet that she could get more than two words out of him. “You lose,” the future President coolly responded.
What might the word-count over-under be for a dinner-party wager on the current President?
Silent Cal, meet Wordy Barry, the Illinois Big Mouth, the Pedantic President, our Loquacious Leader. Somebody sneak Run DMC’s “You Talk Too Much” onto the presidential iPod: “You talk when you’re awake, I heard you talk when you sleep / Has anyone ever told you, that talk is cheap?”
What happened to the soaring rhetoric prompting observers to swoon at a 21st-Century incarnation of Martin Luther King or the liberal Ronald Reagan?
Barack Obama has morphed from preacher to professor. On the 2008 campaign trail, Obama’s lively stump speeches electrified in a manner akin to the storefront minister eager to keep his flock awake and keep them from defecting to the strip-mall preacher on the next block. Remember the fainting epidemic at his rallies? Two years later, Boring Barack lectures his captive audience like a tenured professor aware that the add/drop period has ended.
The day Obama fell in love with his own voice is the day America fell out of love with it. The more he talks, the less we listen—particularly as the nation’s problems show resilience against getting talked out of existence. “O” stands for overexposed.
There is a fundamental belief among the President’s advisors that his words can solve everything. The endless speeches, town halls, and interviews on healthcare coincided with a decline in popularity for the President and his plan. The more he sold his plan, fewer of the public bought it. But he keeps on talking.
Barack Obama is the fitting President for the age of aggressive noise. Invasive cell-phone conversations, televisions blaring in the background, and techno overflowing personal headphones to become an unwelcome public soundtrack dull the sonic senses. The President’s verbosity just adds to the din. We hear but are too numbed to listen anymore.
The differences between the 30th and 44th Presidents aren’t coincidental but philosophical. Calvin Coolidge believed that the Constitution limited his powers; thus, he limited his public words to what pertained to the duties of his office. Barack Obama, who once imagined his ascension to the presidency as “the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal,” views the federal government as omnipotent. If nothing restrains the federal government from, say, running General Motors or taking over much of the healthcare system, then why wouldn’t the President feel a Tourette’s-like compulsion to comment on anything and everything?
“The words of a President have an enormous weight,” Coolidge wrote, “and ought not to be used indiscriminately.” If only the current President could stop talking and start listening, particularly to counsel as wise as Coolidge’s, he might save his presidency.