This Bill Kristol
praise of President Obama's Oslo speech reminds me to recount briefly conversations I had with a half-dozen folks who don't like Obama, and what they thought of the speech. First, they were surprised by it. Second, their view is that Obama acted and spoke as the American President, rather than as an ideologue or a party leader, and they all thought that this was the first time he did this; although one guy claimed he also did it at West Point. Third, they thought that his references to being "head of state" with the obligations and duties attached, was significant. (I note that while I consider the "head of state" formulation to be true--as was his mentioning that he is the "American commander-in-chief"--I thought that overly European in it's mode). Fourth, these folks thought that he said what he said in part because of the long deliberation he was involved in over sending troops to Afghanistan; he learned much about geopolitical necessities (my words). And last, there was a general feeling that giving the kind of speech he gave justified his acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize; a good use of opportunity. There were, I should add, a minority of people who don't trust him, and will never trust him, regardless of what he says or does; but, that is another matter, beyond discussion. A few days ago I finally heard the whole of the speech on C-Span and tried to listen to it as a European might (never mind others for a minute) and realized how important the American President is in his person and in his speech: Because he has a massive amount of authority not only because of the country he represents with its principles and its power, but also in this case because he is post-Bush (who lost his authority) president, a black American man, a Democrat, even a man of the left, who also happens to seem especially smart. Because of this (and the international media attention and praise he has so far received) the things he said were only surprising at first; on second thought, the speech by the American President was not surprising because they were essentially American thoughts, and therefore not only interesting but also, as always, consequential. And even Europeans can't help noting that you do show respect to the opinions of mankind; you actually speak to them and with them; sentiment for them isn't enough. Yes, you Americans remain an interesting people. Note the Teddy Roosevelt quote from Kristol. Those words also might be imperfect, as might Obama's, but they could only be said by Americans.