Can Our Problems Be Resolved by Making Speeches?

“That Left Turn in ABQ” on BHO’s Cairo speech:>The Speech: I was struck by the way Obama moved the Overton Window in this speech with regard to official US rhetoric in support of the Palestinians (has any US President ever described their plight as “intolerable” in a major speech, prior to today?) while… speaking very directly and forcefully against Holocaust denialism, using extreme positions on both sides against each other…. This is a theme which frequently arises in Obama’s speeches. He uses extremist groups and their viewpoints as a foil, pivoting away from them back towards some sort of consensus viewpoint. In many cases this “consensus” is at the present time more hypothetical than real, but Obama’s language challenges the audience to join it and to support the process of constructing it, by posing a choice between extremism and moderation…. [I]n Bush’s case the opposition posited was a dualistic one between two sides only (“You are either with us or against us”), whereas in Obama’s world view the opposition is ternary – a sensible middle distinguished from extremes on both sides (essentially “Are you sane, or one of the nuts?”, he asks)…. This is a very effective rhetorical tactic… [that] works best for those issues on which there truly are deeply polarized views (no straw necessary) and there is already a strong sense of frustration with the status quo. It seems to me that the I/P conflict in the Middle East an issue where the first condition is strongly fulfilled, now we will find out if sentiment on the second condition is strong enough to support the construction of a middle ground consensus against everything which both extremes can throw at it.I am pessimistic: the Israeli majority has to be willing to challenge the settler-crazies to make peace, and the Arab majority–if it is a majority–has to be willing to challenge the eliminationist crazies to make peace, and the United States and Europe have to be willing to grease the skids with money. It’s not clear how many of those can by catalyzed by the words of an American president.My brother reminds me of how Henri “Paris is worth a mass” Navarre saved France from an extra half-century of religious civil war at the end of the sixteenth century–and did so not even by making a speech, just by eating a cracker in the right place at the right time.


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