Barack Obama started his journey to the White House with onlookers fainting upon the sound of his voice. He ends it with a 2016 press conference swan song that witnessed a reporter swoon.
The Fourth Estate remains about the only group that still gets the vapors when the president speaks. The rest of us fall asleep. Listeners bore quickly to the sound of a voice that so excites the speaker.
“I’m sorry, what’s going on?” the president asked on Friday. “Somebody’s not feeling good? Somebody want to go to my doctor’s office?”
A Freudian slip revealing the truth of “if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor”?
That, in a nutshell, serves as the reason people fall unconscious to the president’s voice. Eight years of talking has that effect on an audience, sure. So does saying something false, over and over again, on such a large stage.
The president uttered falsehoods and truths on Friday. Mostly he spoke about his favorite subject.
“As I was preparing to take office, the unemployment rate was on its way to 10 percent,” he noted. “Today it is at 4.6 percent, the lowest in nearly a decade.”
“When I came into office, 44 million people were uninsured,” he told the press corps. “Today we have covered more than 20 million of them.”
“Over the past eight years no foreign terrorist organization has successfully executed an attack on our homeland that was directed from overseas,” the president boasted.
Take it from Barack Obama: Barack Obama was a great president.
The media did. They asked questions (mostly about Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump) but they didn’t question. What does it mean to “cover” people who face a $6,000 deductible? Does the caveat “directed from overseas” really matter much to the families of victims in San Bernardino, Boston, and Orlando?
Such inquiries never crossed the lips of those whose profession ostensibly “comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.” Not that they enjoyed much time to. The president’s party may have restricted the filibuster in the Senate. No such prohibitions limit the talker-in-chief.
America’s 44th presidency came and went as an eight-year, one-way gabfest.
America never cared as much as Barack Obama about Barack Obama’s basketball bracket, Barack Obama’s beer summit with a cop and a cranky academic, Barack Obama’s attempts at comedy on Between Two Ferns. Here, he offered the presidential opinion on Kanye West’s bad manners in interrupting Taylor Swift’s awards-show acceptance speech. There, he congratulated Michael Sam on his selection in the seventh round of the NFL Draft. Everywhere, he talked.
There’s a Harold Hill quality to the president. He believes he can speak his way to his desired reality. One can declare one’s triumph “the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal,” and it sounds wonderful. But when the grandiose proclamations fail to bring the imagined results any subsequent words lose their potency. He became the Music Man. And as in The Music Man, people desirous of success saw (and heard) it. Others saw and heard Harold Hill.
Obama’s words once evoked the excitement of a preacher. They now remind of the pedantry of a professor. His speeches once stimulated. Now they act as a soporific. Despite surrounding himself with stars and celebrities, the national monologist continues to violate the first rule of show business: leave the audience wanting more, not less.
Even the River City Boys’ Band left the town hall cheering rather than nodding off unconscious.