I was a little surprised by Obie’s Drone Speech. I had expected something more political, but what we got was the real Obama, couched in leaden Powerpointese — ‘transnational threats’, for example. A bureaucrat’s speech, a technocrat’s speech, a professor’s speech, in which all the important and interesting questions are ruled out of order and the conclusion is therefore thoroughly foregone. The Summa Stultitiae of crackpot realism.
Just about every sentence is a lie — except for Obie’s rather self-congratulatory observation that Obama bin Laden, like the great god Pan, is dead. That much, at least, I am prepared to believe — once I’ve seen the death certificate.
Little joke there.
Interestingly, Obie seemed to prefer the term ‘extremists’ to ‘terrorists’. Being an extremist myself, by any reasonable standard, this has me casting nervous glances over my shoulder and out the window. Of course I won’t see the drone coming. I know that. But it’s a reflex.
One of the reasons for this choice of words — ‘extremists’ — is to include Timothy MvVeigh and the Boston bomberini and maybe, for all I know, Ted Kaczinsky and Sacco and Vanzetti and Gavrilo Prinzip and the Defenestrators Of Prague and the Gracchi in the list. Munging several different phenomena together under one rubric is a very good way to darken counsel and promote a single solution to a ginned-up imaginary problem. Do you have cancer? Male pattern baldness? Anorexia nervosa? They’re all the same thing, and I have the answer!
Its a very dull, boring, predictable speech — though it’s also a classic exercise in the rhetoric of instutional self-justification, and perhaps worth reading on that account. Go through it and keep a tally: sentence count, X; flat-out, palpable lies, Y. In my case Y/X came out to around 0.99. Your mileage may of course vary, but I bet it won’t vary much.
Among the slight literary ornaments that Obie saw fit to hang on this crudely-fashioned artificial tree was a reference to good old Mattress Jack Kennedy: “the long, twilight struggle of the Cold War”. This is mentioned along with the Civil War and the “struggle against Fascism”(*). So presumably Obie agrees with the cold war liberal consensus on this topic, namely that the Cold War was a righteous struggle and it’s a very good thing that ‘we’ won it. (From my own point of view, life was much better as long as there was a Soviet threat, and I miss it badly.)
All of us — even those who, younger than me, weren’t around for the event — have a kind of vague brainstem memory of Jack’s oratory. Memory tends to flatter it. Here’s the original:
“Now the trumpet summons us again, not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need; not as a call to battle, though embattled we are-but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle…”
Oh boy oh boy. For tinselly, tin-eared, grandiose rodomontade, this is hard to beat. “Arms we need”! “Embattled we are!”
One can’t help thinking of Yoda.
(*) Other peoples’ Fascism, that is. Our own — quite another matter.