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.
Then the president should ask war opponents, "If we were to pull out before we are certain that the elected Iraqi government can stand on its own, what will happen next? Iraq would surely be overrun by al-Qaida fanatics who would then establish a radical Islamic state like they did in Afghanistan, using that state as a terror base to eliminate Israel and come after Europe and the United States with renewed vigor. When that happens, will you take responsibility for it? I doubt it."
On the earmarks Democrats are loading onto the supplemental spending bill for Iraq, the president should list them and their authors by name and shame them before the American people. He won't because he's too nice, which is a wonderful personal trait but it cannot make one a great president. Better to be a nasty success than a genial failure. Bush gets no points from his Democratic opponents for being "Mr. Congeniality."
Why can't Mr. Bush say these things? Is he afraid liberals won't like him? They already don't like him. He shouldn't care if they like him less. The president is not the head of an etiquette club. He is a political leader and is also supposed to be a moral and military leader. The United States once was feared. Now, third-rate terrorists and puny dictators think they can do anything to us with few, if any, consequences. If conciliation and kindness won't do the job, fear might.
This business about U.S. attorneys is a distraction. Important issues need to be addressed. Where is the president's voice? Where is his confidence? Where is his leadership?
It's way past time to "kick butt."