President Bush appealed for patience as the Iraq war entered its fifth year. In a televised address from the White House, the president warned of the consequences if America were to "pack up and go home."
The president appeared to be pleading, not leading. Where are the convictions of conscience, the soaring rhetoric, the broad vision and the dire warnings of failure? Did these go out the door with the departure of Michael Gerson, his best speechwriter?
The president can be persuasive in the content of his speeches and eloquent in his delivery. We saw a different man after 9/11 than we saw before, or see now. The loss of eloquence has given his political opponents new opportunities, not only to make his life miserable, but also to encourage the enemy in their perception of a divided nation. His weekly radio addresses are lifeless and delivered in a monotonous cadence, as if he wishes he were someplace else.
Speeches matter: Lincoln at Cooper Union and his Second Inaugural Address; Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill in World War II; John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address; Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech; Reagan's tear-producing "Boys of Pointe du Hoc" speech commemorating D-Day at Normandy and the one he delivered after the Challenger disaster and Bush's post-9/11 speech to Congress. If you can't rise to the occasion as president, or when history calls in some other great leadership capacity, when can you?
The president needs to go on the offensive, not just on the war, but also on domestic issues. There was a glimmer of an offense in his challenge to Democrats over a "show trial" regarding the firing of eight U.S. attorneys. But verbal combat is not his gift and he is dealing from a weakened position with a Democratic Congress.
On the war, he should constantly quote what al-Qaida and other extremist organizations state is their objective for us. He should ask war opponents, "Do you think they are lying?" The president should invite Iraqis to America to thank us for our investment - of blood and capital - in their freedom. The president should ask war opponents, "Would you prefer they were still under Saddam Hussein's murderous regime? Senators Obama, Schumer, Durbin, Reid and Speaker Pelosi, tell them that to their faces."
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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