The Lileks Zone

Serious President is Serious

Listening to the President’s remarks on Japan today, I was reminded of something that  nags at me most of the times I hear him speak: what’s the rush? Does he have something else to do? “Golf,” you say, you cynical partisan, you. Okay. Besides golf. We all know he’s capable of good set-piece oratory, but when it comes to important moments like the Japanese speech, there’s a flat phoned-in quality you wouldn’t expect from the greatest orator in American history. Why?

Because he’s not talking about himself, perhaps. When it’s a campaign speech to rouse the base or rally the masses, well, as the song says, this one goes out to the one I love. Even the Tucson speech could fit in that category, since he no doubt regarded Healer-in-Chief as a position appropriately for the nation’s top lightworker, but when it comes to these briefings and statements, his heart’s not in it. Not to say you want someone emoting every line – no. Stoic is good. But he reads the prepared text with a flat inflection, a predictable cadence, a rote habitual downward inflection; it’s the choppy read of a run-through, scanned for content, not for impact.

Either he’s disengaged from the material, or this is his Serious Person Voice. I don’t know. I do know that he sounds like this is somehow an imposition, a thing to be gotten over with. It doesn’t sound like a man who knows how to lead. It sounds like a man disengaged from the very moment he’s attempting to shape.

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March 2011