We need to translate what Barack Obama says into ordinary plain English
Translating ‘Obama Speak’ on Syria
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Patterns in politics can open our eyes and teach us a great deal. We need to “connect the dots” over a long time horizon.
Has anyone noticed that a “police action” is being proposed in Syria? Knowledgeable leaders might remember the Korean War. Officially, the U.S. never went to war in Korea. It was only a “police action.” That was going to be short, (almost) everyone said.
Now we are not going to war in Syria, insist President Barack Obama, his Secretary of State John Kerry and others. We are just going to punish Syrian President Bashar Hafez al-Assad for using sarin gas on the city of Aleppo. So, is that a “police action?”
However, the international community is “paralyzed and frozen,” says Obama. He argues that America must act directly, rather than seeking action regarding Syria in the United Nations, because the U.N. is paralyzed. He argued repeatedly that the international community is “stuck” in his Friday press conference from St. Petersburg, Russia.
Of course, the reality is that many nations simply reject Obama’s proposal. The United Kingdom’s Parliament voted decisively against a military strike on Syria. Many of the world’s nations turned sour on the U.S. led liberation of Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama was elected partly on a wave of opposition to further U.S. military involvement. A Swedish journalist asked earlier about a Nobel Peace Prize winner advocating for military action.
In Obama’s mind, when people don’t agree with him, the system is broken or “paralyzed.” Obama is supposed to get his way, and something is wrong when he doesn’t. This is fascinating.
This is the same rhetoric Obama uses domestically against Republicans in Congress. Disagreement translates into a system that isn’t working. In U.S. politics, when Obama proposes unpopular ideas, Republicans become “obstructionist,” not people who simply have a different opinion.
Obama’s controversial proposal to bomb Syria has failed to win support, either internationally or within the United States. But Obama cannot accept that good and intelligent people might disagree.
Some inexplicable, external force – from some unknown place – has the listeners “stuck.” If Obama fails to motivate people to act, they are “frozen.” Their lack of motion isn’t Obama’s fault, nor even the listener’s disagreement. Some unknown factor has interfered.
This justifies Obama breaking the rules, of course. The system is broken, so obviously Obama can’t be expected to follow normal procedures. Ignoring the law and the Constitution, bypassing Congress, ignoring the United Nations – what else can Obama do? The system is broken, after all. (So why not just break it the rest of the way?)
The focus here is political, of course – an analysis of Obama’s leadership and political agenda. No doubt recent challenges in Syria are extraordinarily difficult. The dominant factor is the lack of any good solution to the use of chemical weapons in Syria (by someone). Many supporters of action see the infinitely larger problem of Iran building nuclear weapons looming behind the current crisis at hand. Something should be done. But there doesn’t seem to be anything to do that makes sense.
Why doesn’t Obama take his case to the United Nations? Because he knows that Vladimir Putin will veto action by the U.N. as one of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council. (That is a legacy of Russia’s leading role in winning World War II with the other Allied Powers.)
Vladimir Putin is a “man’s man” – a tough guy – who takes his shirt off whenever possible to pose for political photographs. Putin famously posed riding a horse bare back (both the horse and Putin) in the wild. Russian society traditionally loves the “strong man” leader. Putin is playing on his country’s culture, with exceptional flare and modern appeal. Russia loves its version of Clint Eastwood as a strong leader.
By contrast, Obama is America’s first “Metro-Sexual” President (i.e., American liberalism’s “modern man”). Former KGB agent Vladimir Putin views Obama as the nerd in high school. Putin is playing the high school football team quarterback – but vastly more skillfully than the typical high school jock. Putin knows he can manipulate Obama.
Obama should take his case to the United Nations. Anticipating what Putin might do is a revealing example of Obama’s deficient leadership. Obama could put Putin on the hot seat. He could make Putin squirm. Obama should go ahead and force Russia to veto U.N. action. He shouldn’t guess what Putin might do. Obama should make a dramatic appeal before that impressive podium at the U.N. – employing Obama’s greatest strength of oratory – and dare Russia to expose itself as the bad guy in that emotional drama (another Obama strength). His failure with pulling the trigger is revealing.
But America’s Metro-Sexual President doesn’t see how he could paint the shirtless high school quarterback into an uncomfortable corner. Obama is willing to put Republicans in a difficult spot. Now is actually Obama who is “paralyzed” – not the international community.
We need to learn more things about the language of “Obama Speak.” Obama argues that something must be done, and therefore his proposal should be agreed to. The problem, of course, is that people don’t believe Obama’s proposal is the best solution to the problem. But Obama emphasizes how bad things would be if we fail to act. He does not talk about whether his plan is a good plan or a bad plan or how it will help.
Similarly, Obama and his team, supporters, and followers always talk about what legislation is “intended” to do, what Obama “wants” to do, or what they are “trying” to do. Readers are invited to watch for this. As with the old sing-along movies with the bouncing ball dancing over the words, readers will see this best by listening along together.
Obama answers every question about Obama Care, for example, in terms of what he wants to do, is trying to do, or intends to do. When asked if a plan, program, or law will create this problem or that problem, Obama deflects the question by talking only about his good intentions. The Obama Administration avoids questions about what will actually happen or what the legislation actually says.
Then, when the program causes harm or fails to accomplish anything for the money, liberals will shrug their shoulders and say “Well, he tried.” Of course, he didn’t try, because there is no excuse for failing to design an effective solution to a problem.
Designing a solution that is actually successful and effective doesn’t exist in Obama’s public discussions. The way he dodges detail-oriented questions suggests that Obama fails to comprehend the entire concept. The idea that there is any other component of good public policy than simply wanting a good result seems to fly right over his head.
We need to translate what Barack Obama says into ordinary plain English. Readers are invited to play along and watch for examples of “Obama Speak” over the coming months.