President Obama delivered only the third Oval Office address of his presidency Sunday night, a speech designed to outline his administration's existing policies to defeat the Islamic State while also urging tolerance and unity when faced with the threat from radical Islam.
My four major thoughts from the 13-minute speech are below.
* Nothing new here. From a policy standpoint, Obama didn't break much new ground. This wasn't a pivot speech; Obama wasn't using the recent violence in San Bernardino, Calif., and Paris to make a case for why ground troops were now necessary in the fight against ISIS -- or anything like it.
Instead, the first half of the speech amounted to a sort of education effort as to what his administration was already doing to combat the threat from terrorism generally (he made an Osama bin Laden reference within the first minutes of the speech) and in regard to ISIS in particular.
The political and policy realities related to the fight against ISIS make any more aggressive stance by Obama very difficult. There is almost zero appetite for a major ratcheting up of the fight against the terrorist group. And, even if the public was 100 percent behind such a move, it's far from clear that a lasting victory in the region could be won by ground troops.
What Obama did want to make clear was that a strategy change wasn't necessary because the current strategy would eventually work. "The strategy we are using now … that is how we achieve a more sustainable victory," Obama said near the end of his speech.
* Tolerance, tolerance, tolerance. It seemed as though Obama knew he needed to get through the first half of the speech -- where he laid out that the status quo would be kept policy-wise -- to get to the second half, which focused on what the country should not do in the face of the ISIS threat.
"ISIL does not speak for Islam," Obama said. "They are thugs and killers." He argued that allowing attacks like the one in San Bernardino to divide us is to allow the terrorists to achieve their aims. He insisted that the Muslim community and the broader American community have a responsibility to come together to fight ISIS. "Freedom is more powerful than fear," Obama said, in the address's most memorable line.
Make no mistake: The tolerance message was why Obama really wanted to deliver this speech. He was worried about some of the rhetoric surrounding this issue.
* Gun control as a matter of national security. Obama did make one major pivot in the speech -- he sought to directly link the violence committed in San Bernardino, at Fort Hood, Tex., and in Chattanooga, Tenn., with the need for further gun control and cast it all under the aegis of national security.
The response was not surprising. Republicans rolled their eyes at the idea of a speech about national security and terrorism turning to the need for more gun control. Democrats argued that the connection was direct and obvious.
Still, it was an interesting tactic for Obama to adopt because he has tended to appeal to a broader moral imperative in the wake of mass shootings -- that the reason for action should be that Americans, as a country, are better than all of this. On Sunday night, Obama went straight to people's anxieties and fears; if you want to be safer from the threat of homegrown or international terrorism, he argued, put these gun control measures into place.
* Standing in the Oval Office. The two previous times Obama spoke from the Oval Office during his presidency, he sat behind his desk (as is the long-standing -- ahem -- tradition.) On Sunday, he stood.
— Doug Mills (@dougmillsnyt) December 7, 2015
Roll your eyes at that observation if you want. But, if you think that change is meaningless, you don't understand anything (or at least not much) about the modern presidency.
Obama clearly wanted to send a forceful message, visually speaking. Sitting behind a desk -- even one in the Oval Office -- can make the exact opposite point.
It's also worth noting that Obama is much more comfortable standing while giving speeches -- how many speeches does any politician give while sitting? -- so putting him behind a podium probably made him feel more relaxed and at ease.