So, I go away for a weekend and suddenly Barack Obama is in the box seat to take the presidency again next year. It’s been a good week for Obama (and for West Wing fans). First he put Trump, the Republican’s current darling (for some reasoning as bizarre as the man’s hair) in centre stage on the birther issue by finally presenting the full-form of his birth certificate, killing a conspiracy that could only really thrive in America and in the age of the Internet, then he made him the butt of a couple of cracker one liners at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner this week.
The Press Dinner speech was probably proof enough that Obama is a man to be reckoned with when in campaign mode. Feel free to skip through the minute or so of Hulk Hogan’s “Real American” theme song…
“And I know just the guy to do it -– Donald Trump is here tonight! (Laughter and applause.) Now, I know that he’s taken some flak lately, but no one is happier, no one is prouder to put this birth certificate matter to rest than the Donald. (Laughter.) And that’s because he can finally get back to focusing on the issues that matter –- like, did we fake the moon landing? (Laughter.) What really happened in Roswell? (Laughter.) And where are Biggie and Tupac? (Laughter and applause.)
But all kidding aside, obviously, we all know about your credentials and breadth of experience. (Laughter.) For example — no, seriously, just recently, in an episode of Celebrity Apprentice — (laughter) — at the steakhouse, the men’s cooking team cooking did not impress the judges from Omaha Steaks. And there was a lot of blame to go around. But you, Mr. Trump, recognized that the real problem was a lack of leadership. And so ultimately, you didn’t blame Lil’ Jon or Meatloaf. (Laughter.) You fired Gary Busey. (Laughter.) And these are the kind of decisions that would keep me up at night. (Laughter and applause.) Well handled, sir. (Laughter.) Well handled.”
This is why journalists love him, and it’s why the opportunity to give compelling speech after compelling speech is going to leave the Republicans scratching their heads if they go with the likes of Trump or Palin – or a Trump/Palin dream ticket. From a speaking/speechwriting perspective – the shortness of his sentences is something to behold. They do all they have to. Nothing more. Nothing less.
This punchiness carries over, though the mood changes, when he turns to serious subject matter – like today’s announcement that Osama is finished. Bin Laden’s exit will no doubt rekindle Obama’s place in the polls. Which for me was the most fascinating part of this speech. His branding of the event as a result of his leadership.
There’s a transcript here.
The imagery here seems a little cliched “cloudless September sky”… “black smoke billowing up” but it carries so much of his retelling of the narrative that it’s poignant rather than cliched.
It was nearly 10 years ago that a bright September day was darkened by the worst attack on the American people in our history. The images of 9/11 are seared into our national memory — hijacked planes cutting through a cloudless September sky; the Twin Towers collapsing to the ground; black smoke billowing up from the Pentagon; the wreckage of Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where the actions of heroic citizens saved even more heartbreak and destruction.
And yet we know that the worst images are those that were unseen to the world. The empty seat at the dinner table. Children who were forced to grow up without their mother or their father. Parents who would never know the feeling of their child’s embrace. Nearly 3,000 citizens taken from us, leaving a gaping hole in our hearts.
Obama’s speech today was a corker – and must have been the result of some pretty quick work by his speechwriting team (and he doubtless still works them over pretty thoroughly himself) – it was laden with imagery. Pathos. Gravitas. And a presidential authority that Trump will never muster. It was a triumph of poise over bluster. And one wonders if Trump would feel more at home waving placards with the scare-mongering revellers on the street than pointedly praising the work of Pakistan and describing Osama as an enemy of Islam.
The contrast Obama deliberately seems to create between himself and Osama was both powerful and purposeful – not just to shut up those right-winged idiots who think he’s a muslim with terrorist sympathies. Here’s the three paragraphs where he makes it clear this was “his” achievement.
“And so shortly after taking office, I directed Leon Panetta, the director of the CIA, to make the killing or capture of bin Laden the top priority of our war against al Qaeda, even as we continued our broader efforts to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat his network.
Then, last August, after years of painstaking work by our intelligence community, I was briefed on a possible lead to bin Laden. It was far from certain, and it took many months to run this thread to ground. I met repeatedly with my national security team as we developed more information about the possibility that we had located bin Laden hiding within a compound deep inside of Pakistan. And finally, last week, I determined that we had enough intelligence to take action, and authorized an operation to get Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice.
Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability. No Americans were harmed. They took care to avoid civilian casualties. After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body.”
Then, he subtly shifts the narrative to a contrast between his own symbolic leadership and Bin Laden’s…
“For over two decades, bin Laden has been al Qaeda’s leader and symbol, and has continued to plot attacks against our country and our friends and allies. The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat al Qaeda…
…As we do, we must also reaffirm that the United States is not — and never will be — at war with Islam. I’ve made clear, just as President Bush did shortly after 9/11, that our war is not against Islam. Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader; he was a mass murderer of Muslims. Indeed, al Qaeda has slaughtered scores of Muslims in many countries, including our own. So his demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity.
Bin Laden is an enemy of peace and human dignity, Obama a friend of peace and human dignity.
Bin Laden plots against America, Obama seeks to unite it.
Bin Laden was a fan of wholesale destruction, Obama pinpoints rather than generalises.
And how do you move from a defining moment of one’s personal leadership to an election campaign without sounding like you’re a cynical news-coverage grabbing power junkie? You talk about unity (with a few mentions of your Republican predecessor). You talk about how good your country is. And you take them back to where it all began – the constitution.
“And tonight, let us think back to the sense of unity that prevailed on 9/11. I know that it has, at times, frayed. Yet today’s achievement is a testament to the greatness of our country and the determination of the American people.
The cause of securing our country is not complete. But tonight, we are once again reminded that America can do whatever we set our mind to. That is the story of our history, whether it’s the pursuit of prosperity for our people, or the struggle for equality for all our citizens; our commitment to stand up for our values abroad, and our sacrifices to make the world a safer place.
Let us remember that we can do these things not just because of wealth or power, but because of who we are: one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
And thus, a campaign is born.