Jon Stewart on the sincerity of Obama’s National Security speech

Note: These Jon Stewart segments were covered by John earlier (see here), who made a good point about the Dept of Justice busting potheads but not bankers. I see these segments differently, as Stewart’s commentary on Obama’s National Security speech, and one that supports a point I made earlier — how sincere is Obama in expressing regret and wanting limitations to presidential power, which he himself has greatly expanded.

With that in mind, please read on if this aspect interests you.

President Obama recently gave a major national security speech in which he questioned the soul of a nation that forced him to do bad things, like torture Guantanamo prisoners with months of force-feeding.

In reporting that speech and its notable protester, I suggested we question Obama’s sincerity:

I could not have said it more clearly than digby and Joan McCarter did on last weekend’s Virtually Speaking Sundays — it’s second-term scandal season, the IRS dust-up has right-wing legs, Fox is all over “Bengazi”, and Obama now needs his base. Joan and digby made their point in regard to why no more benefit cuts push from Obama, and tied it to Clinton’s abandoned plan to privatize Social Security after a certain blue dress failed to get a cleaning.

But the point is general. Watch for Obama to be lavish with base-friendly words so long as Fox holds all these phony scandals up for outrage. If the outrage or outrages start to take hold, as some have, Obama will pivot to suddenly liking the left, just as he does during campaign season. In my opinion — and also McCarter’s and digby’s — the pivot has already started.

My response? He’s still Obama, and we have way too much history with him. Don’t . be . fooled.

Of course he sounded sincere; he’s very convincing at that. For example, this also sounded sincere:

Obama 2008: “When you look at Social Security, I believe … cutting benefits is not the right answer. There are too many seniors all across the country who are struggling with the limited benefits that they have.” How’d that work out for us? “Shared sacrifice, tough choices” as far as the eye can see.

Jon Stewart on Obama’s speech

Media coverage of that speech has been all over the map, but most commenters have at least acknowledged the sincerity Obama expressed — or perhaps the effectiveness of his portrayal of sincerity. Chris Hayes, for example, was from time to time rather complimentary, and to be honest, some of the sentiments expressed by Obama were admirable. For example:

Look at the current situation, where we are force-feeding detainees who are holding a hunger strike. Is that who we are?

The problem is, that section could also have been written:

Look at the current situation, where I am force-feeding detainees who are holding a hunger strike. Is that who I am?

Mobius-strip_320px-Möbius_stripAs the protester pointed out to the president’s face, “you are the commander-in-chief.” To which I would add, “Sir, if you want to change your behavior, feel free to, you know, do it.” As a result, I hear the speech as a version of “Stop me before I have to do it again.”

I’m not sure what sincerity means in that context. I mean, what was he asking of us? “Please help me come to grips with my behavior?” There’s a Möbius strip aspect to this — a folding back on itself — that’s truly disconcerting, at least to me.

Thankfully, both Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert saw this as well, and each built segments around it. This is Stewart’s, part 1:

Stewart at 1:26 (my emphasis and paragraphing):

“It is a good point. How a nation and its leaders react to threats, both external and internal, says a great deal about that administration’s values and ideals.

“And while it’s hard to judge an administration by the actions it says it wants to take, but can’t — perhaps we can learn something about the administration from the actions it says it won’t take, but does.”

That’s good writing, but notice something more subtle. Obama in the quote above put the blame on the nation for “our” behavior. Stewart puts the blame back on the administration’s values and ideals. In other words, my point above.

From there on the contradictions — and audio clips — just line themselves up for inclusion. A very nice segment. Stewart pivots to transparency and “free press” but the point is the same. For example, in the segment (2:00) Obama is quoted from the same speech saying:

“A free press is essential for our democracy.”

And frankly, he sounds like he means it. Sincerity. But does he? Stewart takes the rest of the segment dismantling the claim. Good comedy writing and good political analysis.

If you enjoyed it, here’s the continuation, part 2:

Is this speech evidence of Obama’s sincerity and evidence of a administration pivot — or a tribute to his ability to effectively portray it? Is the cause a real change of heart, or a return to the (yes, ever-welcoming) arms of his oft-scorned left-wing base?

I’ll leave that to you to decide. Me, I plan to watch his actions. Suggest you do the same. If Obama really is saying, “Stop me before I do it again” — we’ll know if he does it again. After all, the man who just said this

From our use of drones to the detention of terrorist suspects, the decisions we are making will define the type of nation – and world – that we leave to our children. So America is at a crossroads.

… also just said this …

Even then, the use of drones is heavily constrained. America does not take strikes when we have the ability to capture individual terrorists – our preference is always to detain, interrogate, and prosecute them.

… a statement that has been contradicted, without refutation, in sworn testimony before Congress. I have to say, it’s a fascinating speech.


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Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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