Obama Didn’t Say Anything New Tonight. That’s Just Fine.


I decided to watch President Obama’s Oval Office address on Fox News so that I could understand just how bad he sucked tonight. And sure enough, he sucked! His speech was a complete failure, ladies and gentlemen. There was nothing new. He showed no emotion. He refused to say “radical Islam.” He did nothing to assuage the fears of the American people. It took him four days to say anything about the San Bernardino shootings. And what was with the lectern, anyway?

Conservatives sure get bothered by some weird things. I mean, what’s the deal with their endless obsession about “radical Islam,” anyway? Hillary Clinton keeps getting asked why she doesn’t like the phrase, but shouldn’t the real question be why conservatives are so intent on everyone using it? How come no one ever asks them about this? Over at The Corner, Ian Tuttle insists the problem is that “The liberal mind…cannot take seriously the claim of religion as an animating force in human lives,” which is a singularly strange assertion to make. Then he ends up with this: “Until we identify the religious conviction at the heart of Islamic terrorism, we’ll continue to wage an ultimately futile war.” That doesn’t make much sense to me. I think everyone understands perfectly well the religious motivations that make up a big part of the stew of beliefs that inspire Islamic terrorists. Literally everyone. But why obsess about it in public? George Bush didn’t, and for good reason: he wanted all the non-terrorist Muslims in the world to be on our side. Why is this so hard to understand?

Then there’s the whole business about why Obama waited four whole days to give a speech about the San Bernardino shootings. Is four days really that intolerable a period these days? In the same vein, it’s common to rail about the fact that Obama has been fighting ISIS for 16 months and still hasn’t destroyed them. I can’t tell if this is just a handy talking point or a genuine concern. If it’s genuine, what did everyone expect? George Bush spent eight years fighting the Taliban and still had to hand over the war to his successor. I don’t think the war against ISIS will take that long, but it was never going to take less than a few years. Hell, it’s going to take a few years just to get Iraqi troops into decent shape—something conservatives should appreciate since each and every one of them insists that Iraq will have to provide most of the ground troops to take out ISIS.

Next up are the constant complaints that Obama doesn’t engage in a suitable display of emotion. I’ll admit this is a matter of taste. I find Obama’s manner refreshing. Others may find it too low key. That’s fine. But it’s become a major talking point rather than just a matter of personal preference. I swear, I think Obama could announce that he’d ordered a nuclear attack on Tehran and conservatives wouldn’t be happy unless he did a fist pump at the end.

As for the fears of the American people, I’m a little curious about that. Conservatives seem to think that most of us are in a state of panic over the San Bernardino attack. Are we? There’s no question that attacks like this are unsettling, and I’m perfectly well aware that my own lack of fear is atypical. There’s some polling evidence that Americans think a terrorist attack is more likely in the wake of Paris, which is perfectly reasonable. But are more people personally fearful of being killed by terrorists? Gallup hasn’t shown much change in this over the years, even after 9/11, so I guess I’m skeptical that the latest attacks will produce more than a short blip. But I could be wrong.

Anyway, my conservative friends will be unsurprised that I think Obama’s approach to terrorism and ISIS is basically fine. Sure, maybe we could loosen up a bit on the rules of engagement. Maybe we should be more aggressive about the oil infrastructure. You can argue about these things. But it’s basically small beer, and most of the Republican candidates don’t really have anything more to suggest. They all seem to think that pounding the table and saying “radical Islam” a lot will have a big effect. I doubt that. Unless they’re willing to send in a whole lot of US ground troops, they really aren’t proposing to do a whole lot more than Obama is already doing.