After a while, all presidents get boring. It’s the nature of the job. You go out there once, twice or three times a day to deliver a message that rarely changes, in a language that is so massaged by focus groups and polling that it inspires about as much as an algebraic equation. There are good reasons for this. Repetition works in politics. Most people aren’t paying attention anyway. One step off message can ruin weeks of consistency.
But what happens when the boring president is still trying to be inspiring? I ask because today Organizing for America released “An Update for the President On The BP Oil Spill,” a YouTube message from the president to the activists that Democrats hope will defy expectations this fall, turn out in big numbers, and help Obama keep his allies in the House and Senate leaderships. This is a message to the political troops, a rallying cry, an appeal, and it is about as exciting as mud-caked sandpaper. All the Obama typical cliches are here: “make no mistake,” “we will do whatever is necessary,” “seize this moment,” “I’m asking you to stand with me today,” “together we can make it happen,” “rebuild our economy on a new foundation,” and he does the pointing with his thumb thing. Pretty much everything he says here he has said somewhere else, and with more feeling.
As presidential rhetoric, this is perfectly passable stuff. Presidents are boring. People get that. But as political organizing rhetoric, this stuff seems deadly to me. What exactly should the Obama activists be excited about? What does it mean, exactly, to “rebuild our economy on a new foundation”? Does that mean Obama is pushing for a tax on carbon? For a strong cap and trade system? (Not clear, doubtful.) What special interests does he want to take on? None of this is clear. Instead of specifics, Obama provides platitudes. Again, that is standard stuff for a president. But thin gruel for an activist base–both because the rhetoric is dry and the details mostly lacking.
Back during the 2008 campaign, Obama found a way to keep his rhetoric fresh and interesting. Of course, his speeches then were mostly platitudes as well, but there was a measure of intellectual engagement in them, an energy, a promise, which really did get voters excited. Watch that video above one more time; it’s striking how far Obama has come.