There is something about President Obama’s sense of drama and timing that is very canny, and that makes me wonder if his true political education was in watching English midcentury boarding school dramas. In the two years or so that we have known Obama as a public figure, how many times has this exact scenario played itself out?
A problem arises, and the problem needs to be solved. The naysayers are naysaying, the people are grumbling. Obama is thinking. He’s deliberating. People are getting restless. The problem is hanging in the air. “He’s finished,” the naysayers say, “unless he can somehow explain how he’s gotten us all into this mess.” Obama’s got to do something. He’s got to give a speech! This is it. This is the make-or-break monologue. If he blows this, it’s all over. And so everyone is shouting and muttering among themselves, and then Obama stands up, looks around in that way he does with that air of magesterial authority, and then he clears his throat and he gives The Speech. He gives The Speech, and it’s beautiful and there is a moment after The Speech has been given where an uneasy silence hangs in the air. And then someone slowly does that slow lonely clapping thing, and there is a moment where the only sound in the room (maybe a long communal dinner table) is the slow lonely clapping, and then the rest of the room joins in and there are cheers and the music swells and Obama has done it again! The camera pans to the jubiliant faces in the assembled mutltiudes. It pans again to the faces of his enemies, rubbing their eyes slowly in utter defeat. Another stirring monologue that has silenced his opponents and redeemed his work!
He’ll do it tonight at West Point about Afghanistan. The Jeremiah Wright was perhaps the first and the best, but he did it as recently as September with health care (“A make or break speech for Obama,” said the Financial Times). The problem seems solved, until the next one comes along. And then it’s another make-or-break monologue.