Obama has the oratorical skills of an adolescent
Recently, President Obama — a Demosthenes determined to elevate our politics from coarseness to elegance; a Pericles sent to ameliorate our rhetorical impoverishment — spoke at the University of Michigan. He came to that very friendly venue (in 2012, he won 67 percent of the vote in Ann Arbor’s county) after visiting a local sandwich shop, where a muse must have whispered in the presidential ear.Grade school taunts are hardly presidential, but as Will goes on to point out Obama's other arguments are insult laced nonsense. He came into office with one of the most overrated intellects in recent history and he will be leaving exposed.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) had recently released his budget, so Obama expressed his disapproval by calling it, for the benefit of his academic audience, a “meanwich” and a “stinkburger.”
Try to imagine Franklin Roosevelt or Dwight Eisenhower or John Kennedy or Ronald Reagan talking like that. It is unimaginable that those grownups would resort to japes that fourth-graders wouldn’t consider sufficiently clever for use on a playground.
When Theodore Roosevelt was president, one of his good friends (he’d been best man at TR’s 1886 wedding) was the British diplomat Cecil Spring Rice. So, when visitors to Washington wanted to learn about TR, they asked Rice about him, and Springie, as TR called him, would say: “You must always remember that the president is about 6.” Today’s president is older than that. But he talks like an arrested-development adolescent.
Anyone who has tried to engage a member of that age cohort in an argument probably recognizes the four basic teen tropes, which also are the only arrows in Obama’s overrated rhetorical quiver. They were all employed by him last week when he went to the White House briefing room to exclaim, as he’s wont to do, about the excellence of the Affordable Care Act.
First came the invocation of a straw man. Celebrating the ACA’s enrollment numbers, Obama, referring to Republicans, charged: “They said nobody would sign up.” Of course, no one said this. Obama often is what philosopher Kenneth Minogue said of an adversary — “a pyromaniac in a field of straw men.”
Adolescents also try to truncate arguments by saying that nothing remains of any arguments against their arguments. Regarding the ACA, Obama said the debate is “settled” and “over.” Declaring an argument over is so much more restful than engaging with evidence.
A third rhetorical move by argumentative adolescents is to declare that there is nothing to argue about because everything is going along swimmingly. Seven times Obama asserted that the ACA is “working.” That is, however, uninformative because it is ambiguous.
The ethanol program is “working” in the sense that it is being implemented as its misguided architects intended. Yet the program is a substantial net subtraction from the nation’s well-being. The same can be said of sugar import quotas, or farm subsidies generally, or many hundreds of other government programs that are, unfortunately, “working.”