What a fine speaker our president is. That's the overriding impression he left once he managed to get through the endless applause and handshakes and Roman ovations -- late Roman -- that have become a feature of presidential addresses to Congress and was finally allowed to begin his speech about health care.
It's not the content of the speech that evokes wonder and admiration but the speaker himself. Content scarcely matters with this president. What counts is how he delivers it. It's as if he were lecturing a law school class, and the students are just bowled over--not with the case he's presenting but the presentation. If the case is a muddle, and will raise more questions than it answers once the haze of admiration has cleared, never mind. For he's a master of what the Italians call una bella figura. He cuts a fine figure.
But for all his craft, the star of the evening seemed curiously removed from his thesis, if he has one. If you can find it and agree with it, fine. If not, he assures you, he's willing to compromise. What's not to like? Or to like, for that matter. Form, not content, is what matters. Design, not engineering. As in an Italian sports car on the showroom floor. Never been driven. Maybe not meant to be driven. Everything shimmers, everything is negotiable. And the salesman's style is Armani impeccable. Substance? It can come later, if at all.
A thin but impermeable film seems to separate this president from any of the hard decisions. That'll be up to Congress. It will lift anchor, wait for a wind, provide the ballast, do the heavy lifting, choose the course minute by minute and day after day, confer endlessly, and generally see the vessel, however battered by then, through the storms of debate. The president is just there to provide the sail.
But what smooth sailing it is, at least for an hour. Give our president a teleprompter and away he goes, like a knife through water. Resistance parts before him. Doubts melt away. Disbelief is suspended. And yet, as with a knife through water, everything just closes behind it, and remains as before: fluid. Far below the surface, the hard questions remain, rocky, obdurate, as untouched as the speaker himself.
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