In many ways, Obama’s ISIS speech this week was a successful rebuttal to his own cringe-worthy sound bite announcing that “we don’t have a strategy yet” to counteract the group of rampaging extremists. The president outlined his plan of action, unambiguously declared the group a terrorist organization, and articulated his reasons for acting militarily. For the most part the speech sounded strong, decisive, and presidential. Unfortunately, Obama’s remarks pivoted away from ISIS three quarters of the way through the speech. In a rather forced change of topic, Obama announced that we live in a time of great change (who knew?) and described how America has been able to “bounce back.” Here’s a quick recap of the examples he gave:
- “Our technology companies and universities are unmatched”
- “Our manufacturing and auto industries are thriving”
- “Energy independence is closer than it’s been in decades’
- “Our businesses are in the longest uninterrupted stretch of job creation in our history”
While these points may be true, they have nothing to do with ISIS. Additionally, every one of these points would be strongly contested by virtually any Republican member of Congress. Perhaps the president wanted to take advantage of the national stage to paint a more favorable picture of the country’s recovery ahead of the midterms, but these assertions, true or not, came at the expense of the speech as a whole. The jobs line is particularly glaring. Although the monthly jobs report has shown the economy adding jobs for every month since Oct 2010, the recovery has been frustratingly slow and tepid in many parts of the country. This statement isn’t untrue, but inserting a positive assessment of a sometimes exasperating economic recovery into a speech about a terrorist organization doesn’t make much sense. More importantly, it detracts from the gravitas of a speech that should be focused on meeting an external threat to the country and its allies.
From a political standpoint, it may have been difficult to pass up a chance to score points on economic issues during a primetime speech. However, Obama’s rhetorical swerve from the topic at hand may have cost him an opportunity for a rare bipartisan moment. Given the fact that the president’s approval rating is a drag on virtually every contested congressional race, this may have been more valuable than a positive paragraph about the economy.