The New York Post
July 13, 2016
How do you ruin a great speech?
President Obama gave us a master class in doing just that Tuesday at the memorial service to the five Dallas police officers gunned down last week.
For 15 minutes, the president’s speech was — and this is a word I use advisedly — magnificent. It was elevated and powerful and profoundly moving.
And it was unifying, genuinely unifying, in the way the president made clear our commonalities with the police officers whose lives were ended — and our differences, in the sense that they engaged in personally perilous work dedicated to making the rest of us safe that most of us would never dream of attempting.
Most important, he defended the United States against the assertion made so frequently over the past week that the nation is crumbling:
“I’m here to say we must reject such despair. I’m here to insist that we are not as divided as we seem...I know that because I know America. I know how far we’ve come against impossible odds. I know we’ll make it because of what I’ve experienced in my own life, what I’ve seen of this country and its people as President."
“And I know it because of what we’ve seen here in Dallas — how all of you, out of great suffering, have shown us the meaning of perseverance, and character, and hope.”
I was a speechwriter for Ronald Reagan, and like all those who have had the inestimable privilege to help craft a president’s words, I’m a connoisseur of the form. Despite his reputation as a stemwinder, Obama has not given an address in his seven years that any serious student would elevate into the pantheon of American oratory.
But as the president’s words flowed and deepened in Dallas, I was sure I was listening not only to the best remarks of his presidency but possibly one of the great presidential speeches of our age.
This was true even though he was making certain arguments with which I did not agree — but because his tone was so beautifully modulated and his argumentation so civil, the president himself got me to listen, pay attention, and respect the seriousness of his contentions.
And then he blew it.
He blew it by going on for almost 25 more minutes, repeating himself endlessly, and broadening his specific focus to a more general preachment about how “we” need to “open our hearts” on the subject of race.
As usual, Obama made strange use of the word “we,” because when he says “we,” he means “you,” and when he means “you,” he means people who aren’t as enlightened and thoughtful as he and his ideological compatriots are.
Worse yet, the excessive length gave rise to a few extraordinarily ill-conceived flourishes that would have been discarded from a more contained and controlled final speech.
By far the most jaw-dropping was his assertion that it’s easier for a poor kid in a struggling neighborhood to get a Glock than a book. That’s not presidential. That’s Bill Maher, or Trevor Noah.
At Gettysburg in 1863, Abraham Lincoln gave the greatest of all presidential addresses. It is little noted that Lincoln was not the keynote speaker.
The stem-winding orator Edward Everett was. He went on for two hours. No one remembers what he said. Lincoln spoke for three minutes and his words are chiseled on the American soul.
In the course of his speech in Dallas, Obama began like Lincoln and ended up like Everett. He was a national healer who became a crashing bore.
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