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ThePlumLIneGS whorunsgov plumline
Posted at 12:15 PM ET, 05/02/2011

Obama gets it right in statement on bin Laden

Howdy, everyone. Greg’s away this week, so you’ll be seeing a bit more of me than usual around here. Last time I filled in for Greg was the week between Christmas and New Year’s, and I have to admit I was scraping bottom. . . . I knew this was going to be a newsier week than that, but, well, you know.

I suppose there’s only one thing to blog about this morning. I’ll start with a post about President Obama’s statement, or, rather, about these kinds of presidential speeches.

The thing to remember is how many audiences are listening. Even the domestic audience is more complicated than you would think. There’s always electoral politics in play, and so even at times like these, it's important to manufacture a good sound bite and avoid anything easy for partisan opponents to attack (and both the statement and the briefings last night made sure to emphasize the president's personal involvement). Electoral politics never stops, nor should it.

But there’s also policy, and what the president says matters for that, as well. Obama obviously benefits from this news, but it presents another round of challenges at the same time. He has to prep the nation, both political elites and mass audiences — who were going to be far more attentive to this speech than perhaps any other he would make as president — for what comes next. And the president may not know what comes next. That’s a tricky task; he doesn’t want to overpromise, while also not wanting to underplay the moment.

Meanwhile, there are audiences abroad: friends, enemies, those who aren’t quite sure. Elites in government, and masses, not the least of which are young potential terrorists . . . don’t want any “crusade” moments here.

Oh, and petty and silly as it is, there’s institutional stuff within the executive branch. Who gets mentioned? (By name? Leon Panetta). Which agencies get credit? As I said, petty and silly . . . except that Obama has to work with these people for the next couple of years, and more than that if he’s lucky.

And then the statement has to be constructed so that the stuff intended for one audience isn’t taken the wrong way by another group, since you’re not allowed to say: Hey, Pakistan, this clause is for you! Ignore the rest of it!

Oh, and you might want a little poetry, too.

So how did he do? To my ears, not bad at all. The flourishes were not memorable, but the sound bite – “Justice has been done” – was solid. Using the occasion to hearken back to the feeling of unity in September 2001 was a logical path for this president’s themes in office; emphasizing that the United States is not at war with Islam, and invoking George W. Bush in that context, was both necessary and clever.

The policy often matters a lot more than the words, and certainly in this case that’s very much true, but to the extent that it matters, a nice job by the White House and the president. For more on the statement itself, see James Fallows and Andrew Sprung.

By  |  12:15 PM ET, 05/02/2011

 
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