At the recent APEC Conference in Hawaii, President Obama did a high wire act without a net: he held a speech/press conference without a teleprompter. For those with the stomach to watch the entire 40+ minute affair, You Tube has it, but I recommend only sufficient viewing to determine whether I am on target or hopelessly biased against a President arguably seriously damaging America and the world.
Since the first occasion I happened to see Mr. Obama speaking, I wrote him off as just another vacuous politician spouting meaningless platitudes and taking a near-Clintonesque amount of time to do it. My views were informed by my years of teaching high school and college speech and debate, but at that point, I would have given him no more than a low “C”, and probably, a “D.” My opinion has not changed, and I’ve seen him many times, including his last, disastrous State of the Union Speech which I watched only so I could blog it. I hope readers appreciated my sacrifice on their behalf.
I marvel at pundits—including many conservatives—who believe Mr. Obama to be a superb orator. In reality, he’s seriously flawed and mediocre at best. A truly skilled debater could reduce him to a pile of ashes in short order (Dear Secret Service: I’m speaking figuratively, strictly figuratively). Not only is he frequently logic, fact and truth challenged, his delivery is a virtual checklist of errors.
How do I grade thee? Let me count the ways:
(1) Tennis match/Teleprompter Neck: Mr. Obama’s head constantly swivels right, left, right, of necessity as that’s where his teleprompter screens are. He virtually never looks straight ahead into the cameras, and virtually never above or below the plane of the teleprompter screens. The Lamestream media often compensates by placing cameras in line with the screens to make it appear that he is looking directly into the camera. In the You Tube video, he appears to be reading from a script on his podium, yet still swivels, automaton-like—toward screens that don’t appear to be there.
(2) Verbalized Pauses: Even with his teleprompter crutch, Mr. Obama engages in a stunning number of “uhs,” “ums,” and similar affectations. I counted ten in the first thirty seconds of the video—that’s an average of one every three seconds–and I wasn’t listening terribly intently.
(3) Pace: Mr. Obama’s delivery tends to be slow and halting, with little variation in tempo. The observant viewer of any of his speeches will notice that this is so because he does not read quickly, and he appears to need to read and digest his speeches in short bursts before he can speak what he has just read. There are easily as many instances of momentary “dead air” as there are verbalized pauses as Mr. Obama works his way through his speeches. There is little flow.
(4) Pitch: Mr. Obama tends to blast along at the same halting pace and volume until he reaches the end of a sentence. There his voice abruptly drops in volume, clarity and enunciation—dropping consonants–while simultaneously increasing in speed, producing almost a Doppler-like effect of a train passing and immediately dropping off a cliff.
(5) Phrasing: Paul Harvey was the master of the dramatic pause, and Ronald Reagan knew how to harness emotion to emphasize key points without manipulation. Mr. Obama chops along adding emphasis primarily through a combination of increased volume supported by an angry, arrogant visage and badly feigned outrage at his opponents, almost all of who are straw men.
(6) Pandering: Depending on his audience, Mr. Obama affects—usually badly—various regional and class accents and speech patterns. His fallback affectation seems to be the cadences of the black evangelical preacher ala Jeremiah Wright (the man he could no more abandon than his white grandmother until he abandoned both), but he lacks the devotion, passion and moral clarity of those messengers (OK, Wright’s not such a great example of moral clarity), producing only a mediocre parody of the real thing. He’s not quite as bad as Hillary Clinton trying to sound black (the horror!), but he’s not much better.
(7) Teleprompter Dependency: Going Cold-TP, speaking spontaneously, Mr. Obama is a disaster. No wonder his handlers virtually never let him out of the sight of the TOTUS (Teleprompter of The United States.) This 1:13 video from the campaign in 2008—when he was being feted by the Lamestream Media as the incarnation of Demosthenes—is actually painful to watch and is by no means a rare or unrepresentative example.
(8) Straw Men and False Choices: Mr. Obama constantly engages in the dishonest tactic of claiming that his opponents support positions that have never crossed their minds or lips, and he excoriates them for those nonexistent positions. He constantly trots out false choices, choices no one is proposing, choices so transparently ridiculous it’s embarrassing to hear them from a President of the United States. Apparently Mr. Obama and/or his handlers think such logic is convincing, or the American public is incredibly stupid. They are wrong on both counts.
(9) Rhetorical Malpractice: Rhetoric is speech intended to persuade. Aristotle believed that all good rhetoric effectively combined appeals to logos (logic), ethos (ethics) and pathos (emotion). Mr. Obama’s appeals to logic are virtually always weak, if not nonexistent. His appeals to ethics are severely hampered by his reliance on straw men, false choices, exaggeration and outright lies. His only relative strength is the appeal to emotion, but such appeals, without strong support from ethics and logic are nothing more than cynical manipulation. Mr. Obama apparently believes that persuasion is never so effective as when he is lecturing his audience in the manner of a pompous, imperious professor (which, coincidently, he never was). His tone is often condescending, his manner rude, and his attitude one of supreme self-righteousness and narcissism.
(10) In Your Face Body Language: All exceptional speakers master the art of matching their expression, their posture, their gestures, and their intentions to their words. Mr. Obama’s body language is often completely wrong, sending opposite or confusing messages—when such messages can be clearly understood—than he apparently intends. One of the most classic signs of arrogance is sticking one’s nose in the air, ala Mussolini, yet there are scores of photographs of Mr. Obama adopting just that pose, most by the Lamestream media. Apparently they see such things are evidence of strength and persuasive power. Equally common, and sometimes accompanying his elevated nasal cavities, are the incredulous grimace and the haughty smirk.
(11) Gafftastic: Any speaker will make the occasional mistake, particularly those who speak frequently. However, seldom has there been a speaker so prone to absolutely stunning gaffes so protected by the press from the consequences of those gaffes. On October 24, I posted a list of some of his more revealing and hilarious mistakes. In Mr. Obama’s case, it is truly hard to square the narrative that he is the most intelligent, intellectual man to ever inhabit the Oval Office with even this, scarcely exhaustive list. A man with a law degree from Harvard thinks “Austrian” is a language and Navy medics are “corpse-men?” His historical and general knowledge lapses call into question the quality and specifics of his vaunted Ivy League pedigree every bit as much as his carefully buried college history and transcripts. My favorite gaffe? Mr. Obama’s appreciation for our troops who made the ultimate sacrifice, many of whom he saw in the audience.
(12) Consider The Audience: Mr. Obama has the amazing ability to insult virtually every audience he addresses in one way or another. Any list of the nations he has insulted—including serial insults of his own here and abroad—would particularly include America’s most important allies. In fact, it was at the APEC conference that Mr. Obama called America and Americans lazy. Relatively few audiences find insults persuasive, even those delivered by “The One.” I suspect Aristotle might agree.
I could speak to every little nuance of the application of rhetoric and proper speaking technique (who says conservatives aren’t nuanced?), but suffice it to say that virtually any of Mr. Obama’s speeches delivered in any competent high school or college speech class would barely pass, and many would fail on any one of the major facets of good speaking I’ve listed. A well delivered speech full of falsehoods and misinformation is no more a good speech than a well researched and logically coherent speech poorly delivered, and Mr. Obama often combines the worst of all possible rhetorical worlds.
I know that for a some portion of the public (and almost all of the media), Mr. Obama is a deity, often depicted in pseudo religious postures with a halo (go here for just one compilation, but be sure to take your blood pressure meds and have an airsickness bag handy), but rhetorically, he’s a false prophet at best. Some obviously feel the need to make Mr. Obama far more than he is, and no doubt, believing him to be a speaker unparalleled in human history is a part of that delusional belief system. In the real world, it’s hard to imagine that the objective teacher of speech would find anything other than that Mr. Obama is mediocre at best.