May 26, 2009 | Commentary on National Security and Defense

Nothing New in Obama's Speech

You would think it would be hard to argue that President Barack Obama's Notre Dame speech and his speech at the National Archives on combating terrorism were the same speech.

But it's not. Both, the more you examine them, really said nothing. And both were given for the same reason -- to patch holes in the president's seemingly impenetrable force field of popularity.

Let's start with what Obama actually said in both speeches. In neither one, both on highly controversial subjects, did he move his administration's policies forward. Nothing truly new came out of either speech.

That's particularly true for the counterterrorism one. Truth is, the detention policies of George W. Bush and Obama are more alike than not. Indeed, Bush came within a weekend of announcing the closure of the Guatanamo prison. Somewhere between Saturday and Sunday, he realized he would never get congressional support without a concrete plan on what to do with the detainees. He was right. Obama has discovered he faces the same problem.

Neither speech was really about addressing substantive policy issues. Both were designed primarily to make Americans appreciate the challenges of being president. "Sympathize with me, people!" he was essentially saying. "This governing stuff is hard!"

In the National Archives speech, Obama could have been honest and said, "Look, we are a band of brothers with the last administration, struggling to find the best way to keep us both free and safe." But he didn't. Instead he whined, basically saying: "Look at the mess they left me. Feel for me, people."

In the end, both speeches sounded great. The president certainly dodged a bullet at Notre Dame. Likely as not, the National Archives speech will help keep his numbers up, as well.

Over the long term, however, they could well damage the president's credibility. Those on the left who hated Bush's policies will figure out in a New York minute that Obama's are not that much different. Those on the right, meanwhile, will quickly pick out the credibility gap and think of devilish ways to make it wider.

This could well leave us with a president less able to govern. If that happens, though, there is only one person to blame -- and it's not Obama's speechwriter.

James Jay Carafano is Senior Research Fellow in national security policy at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

James Jay Carafano, Ph.D. Vice President for the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, and the E. W. Richardson Fellow

First Appeared in the Politico