Thinkin’ of Lincoln

Here is the text of President Obama’s speech last night on our war against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Here is the video. Against the advice of his military commanders, Obama announced a drawdown of forces on a transparently political timetable — the timetable of American presidential politics.
I don’t profess to know the right thing to do, but whatever it is, that ain’t it. And placing the context of the drawdown on the need for “nation building” at home: that’s not right either. It makes me want to say that nation building at home will begin with the departure of Obama from office.
It’s worth pausing over this statement of Obama’s vision:

We must chart a more centered course. Like generations before, we must embrace America’s singular role in the course of human events. But we must be as pragmatic as we are passionate; as strategic as we are resolute. When threatened, we must respond with force — but when that force can be targeted, we need not deploy large armies overseas. When innocents are being slaughtered and global security endangered, we don’t have to choose between standing idly by or acting on our own. Instead, we must rally international action, which we’re doing in Libya, where we do not have a single soldier on the ground, but are supporting allies in protecting the Libyan people and giving them the chance to determine their own destiny.
In all that we do, we must remember that what sets America apart is not solely our power — it is the principles upon which our union was founded. We’re a nation that brings our enemies to justice while adhering to the rule of law, and respecting the rights of all our citizens. We protect our own freedom and prosperity by extending it to others. We stand not for empire, but for self-determination. That is why we have a stake in the democratic aspirations that are now washing across the Arab world. We will support those revolutions with fidelity to our ideals, with the power of our example, and with an unwavering belief that all human beings deserve to live with freedom and dignity.
Above all, we are a nation whose strength abroad has been anchored in opportunity for our citizens here at home. Over the last decade, we have spent a trillion dollars on war, at a time of rising debt and hard economic times. Now, we must invest in America’s greatest resource — our people. We must unleash innovation that creates new jobs and industries, while living within our means. We must rebuild our infrastructure and find new and clean sources of energy. And most of all, after a decade of passionate debate, we must recapture the common purpose that we shared at the beginning of this time of war. For our nation draws strength from our differences, and when our union is strong no hill is too steep, no horizon is beyond our reach.

That’s some centered course you’ve got there, pal. In your brilliant efforts abroad, you have managed to produce a months-long stalemate with a fourth-rate Third World dictator. If you haven’t yet become a laughingstock, you are nevertheless doing a fine job helping the United States to become one.
Speaking of unintended humor, the promotion of “green jobs” really doesn’t belong in this speech. It may be time to rewrite Samuel Johnson to say that “green jobs” are the last refuge of a scoundrel.
As for our union: let us seek union in the understanding that cliches are the enemy of clear thought. Don’t our differences include differences as to our ends? Indeed they do. That last paragraph isn’t even coherent. When you think and speak in cliches, Mr. President, the horizon of coherence will remain ever beyond your reach.
In this context Obama’s cheap echo of Lincolnian rhetoric at the end of the speech sounded to me like fingernails screeching across the blackboard. I’ve read Lincoln’s speeches. I can’t say I knew Lincoln, but I know the history of his presidency and of the Civil War. And Mr. President, you’re no Abraham Lincoln.
UPDATE: I missed this even cheaper echo. He’s no President Lincoln, but he is President Friedman!

Responses