George Will on What to Look for in Obama's Speech


George Will has a tough column on Barack Obama that is sort of the inverse of Steve Chapman's. Where Chapman counsels "it could be worse," Will says don't bet on that.

A snippet from Will, who notes that Obama is weak on foreign policy, bad on NAFTA and trade, big on paying teachers more for no clear reason, bent on tax increases, and more. But mostly, Obama loses people when he descends from the rhetorical clouds and starts talking about more down-to-earth things:

Obama's rhetorical extravagances are inversely proportional to his details, as when he promises "nothing less than a complete transformation of our economy" in order to "end the age of oil." The diminished enthusiasm of some voters hitherto receptive to his appeals might have something to do with the seepage of reality from his rhetoric. Voters understand that neither the "transformation" nor the "end" will or should occur. His dreamy certitude that "alternative" fuels will quickly become real alternatives is an energy policy akin to an old vaudeville joke: "If we had some eggs, we could have ham and eggs, if we had some ham."

Will, an anti-Iraq War conservative who favors a strong defense, continues:

When he speaks Thursday night in a venue consecrated to the faux combat of football, the NATO alliance, which was 12 years old when he was born, may be collapsing because of its unwillingness to help enough in Afghanistan and its inability to respond seriously to Russia's combat in Georgia. It is unfair to neither NATO nor Obama to note that the alliance is practicing what he preaches: It is preaching to Vladimir Putin, who is unimpressed. NATO, said Lord Ismay, speaking of Europe in 1949, was created to "keep the Americans in, the Germans down and the Russians out." That Germany's appeasement reflex is part of NATO's weakness is perhaps progress, of sorts.

Journalism often must be preoccupied with matters barely remembered a week later. But decades hence, historians will write about today's response to Russia by the West, perhaps in obituaries for the idea of "the West." If Obama does not speak to this crisis Thursday night, that will speak volumes.

I'm not convinced of the above, but it does point out the mixed messages on foreign policy that have been emanating out of Denver. Are the Dems hawks or doves, after all? And if they are Albrightian war-mongers (recall that Bill Clinton ordered more military interventions[*] than any other recent American president), can we get some specifics on when and how often they're going to be dropping bombs and boys overseas?

The Will column is well worth reading in full. More here.

[*] Update: See "Mad Bomber in Chief," from the February 2001 issue of reason; Bill Clinton ordered 25 major troop deployments in eight years, twice as many as Ronald Reagan. Also, "A Hollow Debate on Military Readiness."