Obama Oratory Overrated?

 

My opinions on our current President run the gamut from thinking he’s merely hopelessly unprepared for the task to believing he’s a dangerous force from which we’ll need decades to recover. (Okay, I’ll grant you, it’s a limited gamut.) But trying to put politics aside, I’m baffled by the widely-held notion he possesses great oratorical skills. Am I the only one who finds his cadence to be sing-songy, his delivery to be robotic, and his timbre to be downright irritating?

When he delivers a speech, I can’t help but picture myself in a room filled with several hundred bored undergraduates trying to stay awake by looking for something meaningful among the platitudes. Each time he tries to move one of his pet pieces of legislation along by delivering an address, it seems to cause the opposite result. His predictable and repetitive style has an almost hypnotic effect that renders his words virtually meaningless.

He’s the guy at the wedding reception who causes everyone to roll their eyes when he stands up to give a toast. He’s the assistant principal who puts everyone to sleep at the morning assemblies. He’s the minister at the funeral who can speak in vague, pleasant-sounding generalities about the deceased without every having met the poor soul.

Maybe his reputation has something to do with his predecessor’s limitations in the public speaking arena, though I would still argue that President Bush could occasionally sound more human (think Ground Zero in New York) than President Obama has ever sounded.

Whenever we elect a new Commander-in-Chief, one of the first things I think about is what it’s going to be like to hear that voice over and over for the next four or eight years. When Ronald Reagan was elected, the prospect seemed delightful; when George H.W. Bush took over, there was a dignity in his style that I could live with; when Bill Clinton came to power, there was, at least, a genuineness that seemed to be present; and in 2000, my main concern when the ballots in Florida were being fought over was that I might have to listen to Al Gore every night.

Then came Barack Obama, and I knew almost immediately that, oratorically speaking, we had a problem. Unfortunately, that may be the least of our difficulties.

Members have made 39 comments.

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  1. Profile photo of Mel Foil Inactive

    As an example, it’s almost as if he believes, that if he can just remind people that a clean environment is better than a polluted environment, then free market conservatives will automatically buy into Cap-and-Trade and every other environmental policy he’s selling. “They just forgot that clean is better.” To me, he just sounds incredibly naive–frighteningly so.

    • #1
    • July 8, 2010 at 4:43 am
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  2. Profile photo of The Mugwump Inactive

    Mr. Obama is vapid because liberalism is inherently shallow and anti-intellectual. Consider for a moment the pillars of American culture: Judeo-Christian ethics, Greco-Roman philosophy, and Anglo-Saxon law. Can anyone give me the liberal equivalent? If Obama were a Roman he would be known as Emperor Nebulous.

    • #2
    • July 8, 2010 at 5:22 am
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  3. Profile photo of Jerry Carroll Inactive

    Obama’s skill as an orator is yet another myth created by the oddly-named mainstream media. So sold are they on this fantasy I think it will be well into the third year of his term before you begin to hear mutterings about the sing-song voice and the tennis-game head swivel as he turns from one teleprompter screen to the other. Obama’s grandiosity has reached the stage where no one in the inner circle could convince him his speaking style has become a drag on popularity even if any dared.

    • #3
    • July 8, 2010 at 6:17 am
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  4. Profile photo of Duane Oyen Member

    The reason I can’t listen to him is the same as why I can’t listen to any substanceless purveyor of pomposity.

    People who take themselves too d@()#! seriously drive me to drink.

    • #4
    • July 8, 2010 at 6:54 am
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  5. Profile photo of txmasjoy Member

    On a recent flight, I was seated next to a professional actor/impersonator who told me that Obama was incredibly easy to imitate, just find the note and hit it over and over.

    He went on to say that no one was interested in paying for “Obama” to appear at their meeting or event. They were paying handsomely for “Ray Charles” and “Stevie Wonder”, though. 

    • #5
    • July 8, 2010 at 7:26 am
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  6. Profile photo of James Poulos Contributor
    Pat Sajak: Am I the only one who finds his cadence to be sing-songy, his delivery to be robotic, and his timbre to be downright irritating?

    I forwarded these comments along, and the President has actually deigned to respond:

    Well, Pat…look. There are those who will say…I can’t connect high-flying abstractions… uh…to real-world events. There are those…who will tell you it can’t be done. Now, I know…that many of you are wondering…uh…how I can be so inspiring when, it turns out…I’m not talking about anything. But make no mistake: without inspiration, you might wonder… uh….ah…what it is, that I’m doing, while you’re not…paying attention.

    • #6
    • July 8, 2010 at 8:46 am
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  7. Profile photo of David Jones Inactive

    I might be biased since I’m inching toward the “dangerous force” side of your Obama spectrum, but I’m in complete agreement. Even during the election, I was wondering what other people were seeing that I was missing.

    The delivery has very little range in cadence, style, or tone. And when he gets to his podium, it’s always interesting to watch him put on his stern, professor face. There just isn’t enough contrast in his speaking style–it’s all various shades of gray.

    • #7
    • July 8, 2010 at 9:04 am
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  8. Profile photo of Melanie Graham Contributor

    It is a fact that he’s a great speaker. We have been told and therefore it is so. I love the assistant principal analogy. Hahaha. He is the Muzak of orators.

    • #8
    • July 8, 2010 at 9:24 am
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  9. Profile photo of Fredösphere Member

    “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” A bit of clarity slipped out the moment Obama said those words. The movement was always about the movement, and Obama was its figurehead.

    The symbolism of the First Black President was the appeal that drew a fair number of Obama’s supporters; for those people, Obama’s work was done the day he was elected. No surprise they’ve lost interest in him; some are now actively hostile, because he must act, not merely be.

    It was never about his ability to sway the crowds.

    • #9
    • July 8, 2010 at 9:47 am
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  10. Profile photo of Trace Inactive

    Pat — I think you need to throw up a Website and sell “Assistant Principal Obama says…” t-shirts.

    • #10
    • July 8, 2010 at 9:48 am
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  11. Profile photo of tabula rasa Member

    He has a nice baritone and he can properly pronounce words from a teleprompter: but that’s all.

    What drives me crazy, are the rhetorical tics he insists on putting into his speeches.

    Two examples:

    1. “Make no mistake, I will . . . ” [This is a signal that he’s going to tell you he plans to do something that he’ll never really do].

    2. “Some have said” followed by a position that no person (including everyone from Bernie Sanders to Ron Paul) has never said and never would. I call this his “straw man” alarm. When you hear it, a straw man immediately follows [and he never identifies who the “some” are].

    I’m sure other Ricochet readers can identify many more.

    • #11
    • July 8, 2010 at 9:50 am
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  12. Profile photo of Pat Sajak Contributor
    Pat Sajak Post author
    James Poulos, Ed.
    Pat Sajak: Am I the only one who finds his cadence to be sing-songy, his delivery to be robotic, and his timbre to be downright irritating?
    I forwarded these comments along, and the President has actually deigned to respond:

    Well, Pat…look. There are those who will say…I can’t connect high-flying abstractions… uh…to real-world events. There are those…who will tell you it can’t be done. Now, I know…that many of you are wondering…uh…how I can be so inspiring when, it turns out…I’m not talking about anything. But make no mistake: without inspiration, you might wonder… uh….ah…what it is, that I’m doing, while you’re not…paying attention.

    Jul 8 at 8:46am

    James, while I dozed off in the middle of reading his response, I’m truly flattered he’d take the time to comment.

    • #12
    • July 8, 2010 at 9:58 am
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  13. Profile photo of tabula rasa Member

    Sorry to weigh in again, but I thought that an example of great presidential oratory should be cited. On June 6, 1984, President Reagan gave his famous “Boys of Pointe du Hoc” speech on the cliffs above Omaha Beach, where forty years before Americans came ashore under heavy fire and Army Rangers scaled the cliffs to take out the German guns. My Dad landed on that beach on D-Day + 3.

    It’s a masterpiece of authenticity and brevity (13 minutes long). Listen to it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eEIqdcHbc8I

    Obama couldn’t have given that speech because I don’t think he gives a damn about the Boys of Pointe du Hoc.

    • #13
    • July 8, 2010 at 10:00 am
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  14. Profile photo of Adam Freedman Contributor

    Pat: excellent post! Obama’s oratory is a classic example of the Emperor’s New Clothes. If Obama were so inspirational and persuasive, then why has he failed so utterly to inspire and persuade American’s to follow him?

    The robotic style and halting delivery are mere symptoms. The basic problem is lack of authenticity. Obama gives the distinct impression of a man who doesn’t really believe what he is saying, but is convinced that he can dazzle you with words.

    • #14
    • July 8, 2010 at 10:01 am
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  15. Profile photo of Pat Sajak Contributor
    Pat Sajak Post author
    Ted Smith: Sorry to weigh in again, but I thought that an example of great presidential oratory should be cited. On June 6, 1984, President Reagan gave his famous “Boys of Pointe du Hoc” speech on the cliffs above Omaha Beach, where forty years before Americans came ashore under heavy fire and Army Rangers scaled the cliffs to take out the German guns. My Dad landed on that beach on D-Day + 3.

    It’s a masterpiece of authenticity and brevity (13 minutes long). Listen to it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eEIqdcHbc8I

    Obama couldn’t have given that speech because I don’t think he gives a damn about the Boys of Pointe du Hoc. · Jul 8 at 10:00am

    A wonderful speech, Ted. Given your close connection through your Dad, it must have been especially moving. Even at his most prosaic, Reagan was more compelling than Obama at his most “soaring.”

    • #15
    • July 8, 2010 at 10:32 am
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  16. Profile photo of Pat Sajak Contributor
    Pat Sajak Post author

    You’re right, Adam. But even when he speaks about things I think he truly believes, he comes off flat and unengaged. And I think he’s getting worse. America’s a tough community to organize, isn’t it?

    • #16
    • July 8, 2010 at 10:45 am
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  17. Profile photo of MFQuinn Member

    Glad to learn I’m not the only one who thinks BHO is not the veritable Demosthenes everyone around me thinks he is. Beyond the abysmal delivery style, there’s precious little substance. Preaching to the choir, I know, but the widespread notion that oratory is his forte is astounding.

    It’s odd that W’s oratory was so painful (like watching one’s child on stage with a speech impediment), and yet by all accounts he is as articulate as one could wish in private. Yes, indeed, Reagan’s speeches were almost always a delight.

    Did anyone else have Clinton pegged as a BS Artist from the get-go, too? As soon as I saw him I recognized more than a few such fellows I came to know in high school. Eight years of perceptual confirmation ensued.

    Great stuff, Pat.

    • #17
    • July 8, 2010 at 10:53 am
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  18. Profile photo of Pat Sajak Contributor
    Pat Sajak Post author

    Mrak…

    I, too, saw a lot of my old, not-necessarily-to-be-trusted friends in Bill Clinton from the very start. But I’ve come to a kind of grudging fondness for the guy. It’s a little like admitting that I enjoy listening to The Archies’ Sugar, Sugar on my iPod.

    • #18
    • July 8, 2010 at 11:13 am
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  19. Profile photo of The Mugwump Inactive
    Pat Sajak: You’re right, Adam. But even when he speaks about things I think he truly believes, he comes off flat and unengaged. And I think he’s getting worse. America’s a tough community to organize, isn’t it? · Jul 8 at 10:45am

    When I was a young man, I did a European tour to round out my education. I can remember stopping in Naples which is without question Europe’s most disorderly city. The sidewalks are so full of trash that the condition literally forces pedestrians to walk in the streets.

    Anyway, one afternoon the kids in the hostel decide to go out for a picnic. We choose a spot in one of the parks. The American contingent begins to police up and dispose of the trash before we sit down to eat. One of the Europeans asks us what we are doing. “No one told you had to do that.”

    Our answer, I think, was indicative of our national character: “We’re Americans. We do what needs doing. No one has to tell us.”

    You see, we don’t need an organizer. That’s a collectivist attitude. Americans organize themselves.

    • #19
    • July 8, 2010 at 11:18 am
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  20. Profile photo of Michael Labeit Inactive

    I too have been unimpressed with Obama the rhetorician. Goggle “Christopher Hitchens” if you want to witness good oratorical skills.

    • #20
    • July 9, 2010 at 1:55 am
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  21. Profile photo of The Mugwump Inactive

    I’m with Andrea on the darkness in Mr. Obama’s soul. I suspect something very unsavory happened to him as a child. I’m not sure exactly what. At the very least he was neglected, made to feel unwanted, and bounced around from one surrogate parent to the next like an orphan. At the very worst . . . well, I don’t want to speculate. But I think the president suffers from something deeper than the garden-variety narcissism you find in many politicians. Every now and then you see his public facade crack for just a moment revealing the real face of the man beneath. And it ain’t a happy face.

    • #21
    • July 9, 2010 at 2:17 am
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  22. Profile photo of George Savage Admin

    Whenever I hear the President speak I am reminded of this clip, but without the laughs.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZmxpftPFXZg

    • #22
    • July 9, 2010 at 2:40 am
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  23. Profile photo of Rob Long Founder

    To me, he’s always seemed like one of those actors who “acts” really well, with the right accent and the technique and all, but who never really convinces you he’s the actual guy. He always seems like he’s sitting next to you, in the audience, nudging you and saying, “This guy is pretty good, isn’t he?”

    • #23
    • July 9, 2010 at 2:44 am
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  24. Profile photo of James Poulos Contributor
    Rob Long: To me, he’s always seemed like one of those actors who “acts” really well, with the right accent and the technique and all, but who never really convinces you he’s the actual guy. He always seems like he’s sitting next to you, in the audience, nudging you and saying, “This guy is pretty good, isn’t he?” · Jul 8 at 2:44pm

    The distressing aspect here is that so much of his rhetorical skill pertains to his ability to describe himself. Obama is at his most powerful when he’s playing off his own identity. When he’s not front and center, there’s not much there there. It’s almost as if all the force of his rhetoric turns on the proposition that the only sure foundation of political judgment is personal identity. That’s a dangerous thing to believe.

    • #24
    • July 9, 2010 at 3:06 am
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  25. Profile photo of Diane Ellis Contributor
    Ted Smith: What drives me crazy, are the rhetorical tics he insists on putting into his speeches.

    Two examples:

    1. “Make no mistake, I will . . . ”

    2. “Some have said” …

    I’m sure other Ricochet readers can identify many more. ·

    I hate these too. Another one is, “I/We will not rest…”

    • #25
    • July 9, 2010 at 4:10 am
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  26. Profile photo of James Poulos Contributor
    Andrea Ryan: He doesn’t give a damn about Navy corpse men, either. · Jul 8 at 12:07pm
    Ted Smith: Obama couldn’t have given that speech because I don’t think he gives a damn about the Boys of Pointe du Hoc. · Jul 8 at 10:00am

    Agh! I just heard about the corpseman yesterday. Truly mindboggling. Any fool knows when the word CORPSMAN floats past on the teleprompter that it can’t say CORPSEMAN because CORPSE has an E in it. I went into this presidency steadfastly against spending my hours in psychological nitpicking, but between the corpseman and the endless bowing and the line I heard today from a trusted source — that a lot of Israelis probably oppose his Israel policy because of his middle name — psychological nitpicking is becoming a civic duty. What is going on in there, Mr. President?

    Pat Sajak: […] I, too, saw a lot of my old, not-necessarily-to-be-trusted friends in Bill Clinton from the very start. But I’ve come to a kind of grudging fondness for the guy.

    Barack makes Bill look almost modest.

    • #26
    • July 9, 2010 at 4:36 am
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  27. Profile photo of Conor Friedersdorf Inactive

    What I think is going on here is that Candidate Obama was an above average speaker on the campaign trail, but that President Obama isn’t a particularly noteworthy orator when giving speeches actually required in the job of governing. And having observed this, it occurs to me that most people who pronounced that he was a good speaker didn’t realize that there is any kind of distinction between these two kinds of speeches (perhaps because certain presidents were either good or bad at both, creating the illusion that they are inextricably tied).

    Anyhow, when you go back and listen to or read certain Ronald Reagan speeches, the depth of his rhetoric versus the shallowness of what we get today can be rather striking.

    • #27
    • July 9, 2010 at 8:42 am
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  28. Profile photo of TucsonSean Inactive

    Obama’s speaking ability has from the outset been grossly exaggerated. The MSM was desperate to make him accomplished at something, and this was all they had. He hadn’t had a real job, he was not an accomplished legislator. To the extent he was an author, he only wrote about himslef, and, I guess, the sterling achievements of neither ever having had a job or ever having been an accomplished legislator. His poor delivery was only matched by the vapidness of the rhetoric itself. Pat Sajak nailed it when he called it sing-songy. That is the most irritating characteristic of poor public speaking.

    • #28
    • July 9, 2010 at 10:03 am
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  29. Profile photo of outstripp Inactive
    Andrea Ryan
    Pat Sajak: …But even when he speaks about things…he truly believes, he comes off flat and unengaged.
    At the core of Obama is an angry black man,

    The irony is that he is not black (what we call black in America, a descendant of the plantation slaves). He is, of course, African-American, since his father was African and his mother American. Bobby Jindal is not black, in spite of his skin color which is about the same as the president’s, and neither is Obama. His inauthenticity is showing through.

    • #29
    • July 9, 2010 at 10:41 am
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  30. Profile photo of Aaron Miller Member

    Agreed, outstripp. It’s both funny and sad when someone of Obama’s background lives in Chicago and attends a black church, and suddenly he’s a part of black culture. Every time he speaks with gospel rhythms, people should laugh at him. If he was a regular guy, they would. Because he’s a politician, many are willing to pretend.

    It’s somewhat understandable, considering segregation is still within living memory. But I’m disappointed that so many suspended disbelief for so long.

    • #30
    • July 9, 2010 at 11:24 am
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