[Marxism] Mr. Slick
marvgand2 at gmail.com
Wed May 29 05:50:32 MDT 2013
Obama's terrorism speech: seeing what you want to see
By Glenn Greenwald
May 27 2013
The hallmark of a skilled politician is the ability to speak to a group of people holding widely disparate views, and have all of them walk away believing they heard what they wanted to hear. Other than Bill Clinton, I've personally never seen a politician even in the same league as Barack Obama when it comes to that ability. His most consequential speeches are shaped by their simultaneous affirmation of conflicting values and even antithetical beliefs, allowing listeners with irreconcilable positions to conclude that Obama agrees with them.
The highly touted speech Obama delivered last week on US terrorism policy was a master class in that technique. If one longed to hear that the end of the "war on terror" is imminent, there are several good passages that will be quite satisfactory. If one wanted to hear that the war will continue indefinitely, perhaps even in expanded form, one could easily have found that. And if one wanted to know that the president who has spent almost five years killing people in multiple countries around the world feels personal "anguish" and moral conflict as he does it, because these issues are so very complicated, this speech will be like a gourmet meal.
But whatever else is true, what should be beyond dispute at this point is that Obama's speeches have very little to do with Obama's actions, except to the extent that they often signal what he intends not to do. How many times does Obama have to deliver a speech embracing a set of values and polices, only to watch as he then proceeds to do the opposite, before one ceases to view his public proclamations as predictive of his future choices? Speeches, especially presidential ones, can be significant unto themselves in shaping public perceptions and setting the terms of the debate, so Obama's explicit discussion of the "ultimate" ending of the war on terror can be reasonably viewed as positive.
But it signals nothing about what he actually will do. I'm genuinely amazed that there are still smart people who treat these speeches as though they do. As Esquire's Tom Junod put it after the speech: "if the Lethal Presidency reminds us of anything, it's that we should be a long way from judging this president on his rhetoric or his portrayal of himself as a moral actor." The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf added that Obama "has a long record of broken promises and misleading rhetoric on civil liberties, and it would be naive to assume that he'll follow through on everything he said on Thursday."
What Obama has specialized in from the beginning of his presidency is putting pretty packaging on ugly and discredited policies. The cosmopolitan, intellectualized flavor of his advocacy makes coastal elites and blue state progressives instinctively confident in the Goodness of whatever he's selling, much as George W. Bush's swaggering, evangelical cowboy routine did for red state conservatives. The CIA presciently recognized this as a valuable asset back in 2008 when they correctly predicted that Obama's election would stem the tide of growing antiwar sentiment in western Europe by becoming the new, more attractive face of war, thereby converting hordes of his admirers from war opponents into war supporters. This dynamic has repeated itself over and over in other contexts, and has indeed been of great value to the guardians of the status quo in placating growing public discontent about their economic insecurity and increasingly unequal distribution of power and wealth. However bad things might be, we at least have a benevolent, kind-hearted and very thoughtful leader doing everything he can to fix it.
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