The Importance of Being Careful

The only news Barack Obama made in his first post-election press conference was when, in a classless moment, he falsely ridiculed Nancy Reagan for holding “seances” in the White House. He was then compelled to call her to apologize for what he termed his “careless remark.”

It appears that Obama may have been careless again yesterday, with international consequences. He spoke with the President of Poland, Lech Kaczynski, on the telephone. Afterward, Kaczynski wrote that Obama “said that the missile-defense project would continue.” The Obama camp then released a statement to the effect that Obama had said no such thing: “President Kaczynski raised missile defense but President-elect Obama made no commitment on it.”

It’s possible that President Kaczynski deliberately misquoted Obama, but that seems highly unlikely. It’s much more probable that Obama indulged in his usual ambiguity, failed to choose his words carefully, and thereby conveyed a misleading impression.

Obama thinks he is a good talker, but he is often undisciplined when he speaks. He needs to understand that as President, his words will be scrutinized and will have impact whether he intends it or not. In this regard, President Bush is an excellent model; Obama should take a lesson from his example. Bush never gets sloppy when he is speaking publicly. He chooses his words with care and precision, which is why his style sometimes seems halting. In the eight years he has been President, it is remarkable how few gaffes or verbal blunders he has committed. If Obama doesn’t raise his standards, he will exceed Bush’s total before he is inaugurated.

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