Big Speech Fatigue?

Obama may soon find out that he can't talk his way out of Afghanistan.

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President Obama, like Candidate Obama before him, has relied heavily on the Big Explainer of a political speech to get him out of any number of tough political spots, from Jeremiah Wright to the financial meltdown to the outrage over big bailout bonuses.

These speeches have a signature architecture, which may be described as Obama’s Grand Unified Theory on Blank (Race, the American Economy, Too Big to Fail). Generally, he begins by reminding us of a little poignant history, then of the problems confronted and the challenges met. Then comes the patriotic exhortations of what the American character can accomplish if we band together against the common enemy and our own cynicism.

His coherence and clarity would be enhanced by the inevitable comparison to his immediate predecessor in the White House. During every Big Obama Speech, a slow wave of recognition would wash over you, and by the end you'd walk away thinking: “Now I get it.” Or you'd give him the benefit of the doubt because you thought, at least, he got it.

On Tuesday night, we got the president’s Grand Unified Theory on Afghanistan, and in it we may have begun to witness the limits of the political efficacy of the Big Obama Speech.

Given what he had to work with—no good options—the president did the best he could, but the question is, who's listening? He reminded us that Afghanistan was a war that al-Qaida started, not us, and that we only went after the Taliban because they refused to hand over Osama bin Laden, after he killed 3,000 people on 9/11. He reminded us that the guys who occupied the White House before him made the monumental mistake of fighting a war of choice in Iraq, while neglecting one of necessity in Afghanistan.