We all remember the comparison made between Barack Obama and the messiah during the 2008 presidential campaign. Some of that stemmed from his seemingly pristine reputation, though like all politicians he had had dealings with unsavory characters. Some of that arose from his unique personal background, which like that of Jesus or Moses included a sojourn abroad, in Indonesia, not Egypt. Finally, some of it came from his messianic rhetoric, when he spoke, for instance, of how people would look back on this as a time when the oceans stopped rising.
If Barack Obama is truly a Moses, whose name has the same etymological root as messiah, then perhaps he needs an Aaron. I say this not because his representatives, press spokesman Robert Gibbs and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, have failed the eloquence test. I say this because Obama himself gave an absolutely tone-deaf response to the near catastrophe on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas Day.
Like Moses, who led the Israelites into the promised land but lacked the eloquence to inspire them, Obama has lost his voice. This comes as somewhat of a surprise since he has been touted as among the most gifted orators of his era. Who can forget MSNBC's Chris Matthews practically genuflecting as he talked about chills crawling up his leg after he had listened to an Obama address in 2008? Who can forget broadcasters raving about Obama's ability to speak off the cuff at campaign rallies?
What has happened to this generation's great communicator?
On Dec. 28, after spending three days AWOL, while catching up on his golf game, Obama could not speak off the cuff. He had no teleprompter, so, as he stood before the cameras, he read from prepared remarks.
Except he apparently never learned Public Speaking 101, one of whose principles is that your voice should never tail off when you enunciate the most important phrases of a speech. When Obama said that we must "defeat the violent extremists," he looked down at the text, not at his audience, and his voice died as he spoke the final two words, which referred of course to the very enemy to whom the address was partially targeted. The same thing occurred when he paused too long and looked down at his remarks in the middle of saying that "the American people should remain vigilant." He could not have sounded less convincing.
Obama's lack of animation and fire in delivering the speech, to say nothing of his burdening the American people with an outsize role in the fight against terror, showed a shocking disconnect following an attempted terrorist attack. U.S. citizens wanted to know what the government was doing to protect them, not what they should do to protect the government. They also wanted to know how a young Nigerian, whose father had informed the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria of his son's radicalism, could have gotten a U.S. visa and how he could have smuggled the explosive PETN onto the flight from Lagos to Amsterdam to Detroit.
I have written before about how Obama appears blessed, even by his very name, Barack. Up until now, I have thought of him not only as being in touch with Americans but also as having a great deal of luck. After all, he was born in Hawaii only two years after it entered the Union, barely allowing him eligibility for the presidency. In 2008, he ran in a primary that tallied its delegates on a proportionate basis, instead of winner-take-all, a method used by Republicans and once used by Democrats. This allowed him to squeak by Hillary Clinton even though she won nearly all of the largest states and would have soundly defeated him in a winner-take-all format.
As president, his luck has continued in many respects. In one of his first acts as commander-in-chief, he gave the order for U.S. Navy SEALs to kill the pirates who were holding an American citizen, the captain of a merchant vessel, captive off the coast of Eastern Africa. Though firearms experts said that the shots were straightforward for marksmen, the flawless execution by the snipers and the subsequent rescue of the American citizen suggested a president with none of the ill-fated karma of Jimmy Carter, whose attempt to rescue the U.S. hostages in Iran was botched.
Most recently, Obama and all of us have been blessed with good fortune in that no one died on that Christmas Day flight.
However, the president is pressing his luck.
It appears that there may have been a connection between the alleged Nigerian terrorist, Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab, and two Al Qaeda officials in Yemen, who had been released from Guantanamo in 2007. To be fair to Obama, the two terrorists were reportedly released prior to his presidency, by the Bush administration, and sent to Saudi Arabia where they were put in an "art therapy rehabilitation program," according to ABCNews.com.
Still, it begs the question as to whether or not the Obama administration should be sending detainees, some of them the "violent extremists" Obama spoke of with such dispassion, back to nations that are breeding grounds for terrorism.
Yes, these are some tough questions for our president, who would do better to get off the links, dispense with prepared remarks and speak from the belly the next time he steps before a lectern after a near tragedy. Either that or he'd better hire some new Aarons.