John Feehery: Speaking Engagements

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The West Point Speech

Posted on December 1, 2009

The West Point Speech




Probably the best part of President Obama’s speech at West Point tonight was the end, when he left the stage and posed for pictures with the young kids who may eventually be shipped to Afghanistan because of the words spoken by Mr. Obama this evening.



Adam Belmar, a smart guy whose office is a couple of doors down from mine, used to help stage President Bush (he didn’t do the Mission Accomplished banner though) as the former President would go in front of the cameras.  He is a real pro and he knows what he is doing when it comes to framing the television picture.  He told me yesterday that he was surprised that for such an important address that President Obama was using West Point as his backdrop to announce his major troop increase to Afghanistan.  “His eyes will keep shifting from one side to the other as he looks at the teleprompter,” he told me.  “It will make him look shifty and weak.”

It was a perceptive prediction.  For the most important address of his Presidency, the President didn’t look particularly authoritative or strong.  He didn’t look the American people in the eye and tell them straight up that he was sending in the Army and Marines to win this war against extremist Islamic crazies.

Sure, he made the right decision.  And sure, it took a bit of backbone to stare down his left wing, who is adamantly opposed to giving our troops stationed in Afghanistan the necessary reinforcements.  But the President didn’t exactly give a rousing speech in front of a quiet, respectful, if somewhat underwhelmed crowd.

The President could have kept it short and straight.  But he didn’t.  He tried to weave in how the previous President screwed up, and then about how he has changed our relationship with the Muslim world (really?  What about Fort Hood?), and then how this fits into his bigger domestic plans (which we can longer really afford anyway).

He can’t resist his own voice.  He can’t stop himself from starring in his drama.  And as he looked side to side, I got the sense that the President was trying to convince himself that this was the script that he was supposed to believe in, but couldn’t.

The President used the word “I” 48 times during the speech, from my count.  That is a lot of self-reverence for a guy who simply just had to tell the Pentagon to do what it has wanted to do now for more than 80 days.  They want to win and they want to get the necessary troops in theater so they have a better chance of winning.

This decision isn’t about the President.  It is about our national security, our international reputation, and of course, about beating the bad guys.

The speech wasn’t staged well, it wasn’t particularly well-delivered, it was too long, and it was too self-reverent.  But at least it communicated the right decision.  And that’s important.