President Obama’s Sunday night speech was meant to “reassure the nation” after the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, Calif., last week. Given that the president used his first Oval Office speech of his second term to pivot back to his anti-gun agenda, criticize Congress and scold Americans, it’s hard to imagine that anyone felt reassured. After listening to the president’s speech, does anyone — at home or abroad — think Obama is the leader of a global war on terror? No. No one thinks that.
So what did we learn from the president’s speech?
First, there was a nuanced shift in language from the president as he finally grouped the 2009 Fort Hood shooting with other terrorist attacks. It was a welcome shift from the president’s past references to the Fort Hood attack as an incident of “workplace violence,” but he still did not go far enough. This is not a time for nuance. I suspect nuance is lost on Islamic State maniacs. Obama said that “our success won’t depend on tough talk.” Does that mean he is demanding some relevant, aggressive action? Apparently not.
Second, Obama was tone-deaf in once again calling for small-bore gun-control initiatives that probably would not have prevented any of the terror shootings in this country so far. And oh, by the way, his call to “make it harder for people to buy powerful assault weapons” is asinine, considering that California already has the toughest gun laws in the country.
Third, the president threw out a few symbolic line-items for Congress to consider, including stronger screening processes for anyone who enters the country without a visa and a vote for a new Authorization for Use of Military Force. Undoubtedly, Congress will take some action, but there is no substitute for an American president leading a robust fight.
Last, the president used his most emphatic language to admonish Americans, telling us to be on our best behavior and refrain from “betraying our values” by “turn[ing] against one another by letting this fight be defined as a war between America and Islam.” As the Daily Caller pointed out, he used more than a quarter of his speech to scold Americans on guns and racism and only 8 percent of his speech to address the actual threat of the Islamic State. That says a lot about the president’s priorities.
Anyway, nothing in the president’s speech suggested he is seizing the moment or is willing to lead the kind of fight that the Islamic State can understand. Nothing he said suggested new thinking, a new plan or even any new urgency now that murderous radical Islam appears to have taken root here at home. Nothing in that speech suggested he understands the United States has entered a different phase in the war on terror or that he will be able to meet those challenges. Essentially, the president wants to stay the course and hope for the best. Incredibly, with the global menace of the Islamic State on the march and after a terrorist attack on the American homeland, the president of the United States — as The Post points out — has to “struggle to be heard.” Frightening. Obama has become painfully irrelevant.
But it is not enough for political partisans to revel in what a failure Obama is and has been. The danger to Americans from radical Islamists is real, and the problem is only going to get worse. We may not know the full extent of the threat, but one thing the San Bernardino attack makes clear is that the enemy is among us. The next president needs to affirm that he or she will lead the global fight against terror. Of all the ways Obama has diminished the office of the presidency and led the United States into retreat, his refusal to lead the fight against terrorism may be the most consequential element of his legacy.
The president’s troubling speech makes it plain that we need our presidential candidates to convey a message to voters about the future, giving them reasons to believe that Republicans are better prepared to govern than the Democrats. And every presidential candidate should denounce Donald Trump and his wild outbursts. He has crossed so many lines that he has gone beyond harmless buffoonery. His latest call to ban Muslims from entering the United States is proof that he can best be described by using the highly technical, political term “whack job.”
While I still think the half-life of the Trump phenomenon will be relatively short, I do think he is hurting the party. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) went on CNN and bluntly stated that Trump is “a race-baiting, xenophobic religious bigot. He doesn’t represent my party. He doesn’t represent the values that the men and women who wear the uniform are fighting for.” Good for Lindsey Graham! And Carly Fiorina was exactly right when she said that “Trump’s overreaction is as dangerous as President Obama’s underreaction.” But as far as I’m concerned, this should just be the warm-up. Where’s Lee Atwater when you need him? Every other GOP candidate needs to come out against Trump with both fists. If they are afraid to do so, they shouldn’t even be in the race.
The war on terror could define our times, yet the Republicans are off-message because of the Trump idiocy. Republicans need to remind voters of the danger Obama has put us in and of how Hillary Clinton and other Democrats on the ballot have been complicit in creating America’s new vulnerabilities.