By Mary Kate Cary, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
My colleague Robert Schlesinger wrote approvingly of President Obama's Nobel Prize address today, and in the spirit of bipartisanship, I'll say I agree. It was a great speech, humble at the beginning, then at times soaring and thoughtful. He spoke strongly and clearly about evil in the world, the tension between "isness" and "oughtness," the necessity of force and the yearning for peace. Gone was his apologetic tone overseas. As Michael Gerson wrote, "It was a very American speech," underscoring that the American military is a force for good in the world. It's worth taking the time to read it yourself, and I predict you'll find yourself agreeing with many of the things he said. I know I did. It explains why so many commentators across the political spectrum are praising it.
It was a much better speech than his one last week on Afghanistan. Here's what the New York Times said: "When he announced his plan to send an additional 30,000 troops last week, Mr. Obama's speech was well argued but sounded more like a legal brief than an exemplar of presidential oratory. At the time, he was coming out of months of difficult internal debates and girding himself for the skepticism and disappointment of many members of his own party." The Times is right: Last week he was speaking to his own left wing, and while the audience yesterday in the Oslo City Hall was comprised of leaders of the left wing in Europe, he was speaking to independents in the United States. And that's why almost everyone here found something with which they could agree.
Why the move to the center? Peggy Noonan has a theory, and I have to say, I think she's on to something. "It tells us White House internal polling is probably worse than the public polls telling us the president has been losing support among independents," she writes. "It tells us the mounting criticism from Republicans, conservatives and others has had a real effect. It tells us White House officials have concluded they were out on a cliff. It tells us they are calculating that after a first year of governing from the left, and winning whatever they win on health care, they believe they can persuasively shift to the center, that it will work."
The president moved to the center this week not only on foreign affairs but also on the economy, when he spoke glowingly of growing small businesses and cutting taxes at the Brookings Institute on Tuesday—both bedrock Republican principles. Hence all the comments about Obama "maturing" and becoming more "impressive" and comfortable in his role as commander in chief—because he's moving to the right, where all the votes are. He's no dummy, but neither are voters.