Obama's Empty Rhetoric

The president knows what's fair to say. And those who disagree? Well, he'll set them straight.


President Obama has long been regarded as a skilled orator. What many might not realize is that he is also a skilled arbiter of oratory. Which, when you think about it, only stands to reason.

To be a skilled arbiter of oratory, of course you first must be a sharp observer of it. And Obama has proven he is. He has an ear for what others are saying. For instance, he has observed that "there are those who say we cannot invest in science." Those people are wrong, by the way: "Science is more essential for our prosperity, our security, our health, our environment and our quality of life than it has ever been before."

It also has been his observation that "there are those who say high-speed rail is a fantasy." They're wrong, too: "Its success around the world says otherwise."

And he has noticed "there are those who say the plans in (my) budget are too ambitious"—but . . . well, you know.

Obama also has caught "those who" saying other stupid things: that the "terrorist threat is beyond our control," that "we're at war with Islam," that "we should defer health care reform" and that "we are going too far." Do not listen to them who.

Having listened so intently to those who have said things, Obama has developed a keen sense of what is fair to say.

Two years ago, he allowed that it was fair to say the rollout of Obamacare "has been rough so far." At the same time, "it's fair to say that . . . we would not have rolled out something knowing very well that it wasn't going to work." And that also makes sense when you think about it, because as he pointed out on another occasion, it's also "fair to say that all governments think they're doing what's right, and don't like criticism."

Last summer, the president decided it was "fair to say that the U.S.-New Zealand relationship has never been stronger." This must have come as a stinging rebuke to all those who have been talking trash about the U.S.-New Zealand relationship.

Not that the relationship between New Zealand and the U.S. is an exclusive thing, mind you. They're free to see other people. As Obama said around the same time about the bond between America and Ireland, "it's fair to say there are very few countries around the world where the people-to-people ties are so strong." And yet, at the same time, "it's fair to say that we have very few friends, partners and allies around the world that have been as steadfast and reliable as His Majesty King Abdullah" of Jordan. Don't call him a Pollyanna on foreign affairs, though. After all: "I think it's fair to say that, although the relationship between the United States and the Czech Republic economically is very strong, it can always be stronger."

Obama's relations with Congress have not always been so strong and reliable, which may be one reason "I think it's fair to say our democracy isn't working as well as we know it can." At times, he has grown downright testy. Still, "I think it's fair to say that I've shown a lot of patience and have tried to work on a bipartisan basis as much as possible." And who could be a better judge of that than he is?

At this point, you might be wondering, "Aren't there some things that it isn't fair to say? For instance, suppose the president were to honor a bunch of police officers in a Rose Garden ceremony. Wouldn't it be fair to say that those guys must have suspected, at some point, that they would receive such an honor?"

Nope. As the president put it in 2010, "I think it's fair to say that the folks behind me never imagined they would be here today." Didn't see that coming, didja?

As a matter of fact, an astonishing number of things are fair to say, according to the president. It's fair to say Martin Luther King Jr. "wasn't the coolest kid on campus." And that Washington, D.C., "moves a lot slower than NASCAR." And that "if we didn't have poetry, that this would be a pretty barren world. In fact, it's not clear that we would survive without poetry."

I think it's fair to say that he's stretching things just a little to say it's fair to say a thing like that. And you know what? On that point, there are those who say the same.