George Will

WASHINGTON -- As the presidential candidates enter the three-month sprint to November, Barack Obama must be wondering: If that did not do it, what will? The antecedent of the pronoun "that" is his Berlin speech. The antecedent of the pronoun "it" is assuage anxieties about his understanding of the need to supplement soft power (diplomacy) with hard power (military force).

He spoke in Berlin at the bullet-scarred base -- it was in the crossfire 63 years ago as Russian troops neared Hitler's bunker about a mile away -- of an 1873 monument to German militarism. To be precise, the monument celebrates the Franco-Prussian War and lesser triumphs of the militarism that would help ruin the next century.

Anyway, at that monument Obama exhorted Germans -- does the candidate of "change" appreciate how much beneficent change made this exhortation necessary? -- to be more willing to wage war, in Afghanistan. He was right to do so.

But polls taken since his trip abroad do not indicate that Obama succeeded in altering the oddest aspect of this presidential campaign: Measured against his party's surging strength in every region and at every level, he is dramatically underperforming. Surely this fact is related to anxieties about his thin resume regarding national security matters, the thinnest of any major party nominee since Wendell Wilkie's in 1940. But the fact also might be related to fatigue from too much of Obama's eloquence, which is beginning to sound formulaic and perfunctory.

Even an eloquent politician can become, as Benjamin Disraeli described William Gladstone, "a sophistical rhetorician inebriated with the exuberance of his own verbosity." John Kennedy said in Berlin, "Freedom is indivisible, and when one man is enslaved, all are not free." That half-baked and badly written thought was either trivial because it was tautological (when one man is enslaved, not every man is free) or it was absurd (when one man is not free, no man is free). That absurdity is dangerous because it makes a grandiose mission seem imperative, as in President George W. Bush's second inaugural address: "The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands."

Does Obama have the sort of adviser a candidate most needs -- someone sufficiently unenthralled to tell him when he has worked one pedal on the organ too much? If so, Obama should be told: Enough, already, with the we-are-who-we-have-been-waiting-for rhetorical cotton candy that elevates narcissism to a political philosophy.


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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