Obama's speech: inspiring or incoherent?

“Evil does exist in the world,” President Obama said. We cannot negotiate away our problems with Al Qaeda. “War, in one form or another, appeared with the first man.” We must not, he said, compromise “the very ideals we fight to defend.” Plus, there was whole business of the ‘just’ war: as long as it’s in self-defense, is a last resort, and you try not to kill too many people, especially civilians. It was a strange Peace Prize speech.

Many of us who voted for him with such optimism and (too-)high expectations caught our breath at the news of the peace prize. And listened with some skepticism to his Nobel address. We wish the options were better. We still hope.

The speech, comments Michael Muskal of the Washington Post, was “part political science lesson, part sermon and part politics, designed to answer domestic and international critics,” But I think the commentary that best summed up the speech came from Joseph Bottum, editor of First Things and a guest on PBS NewsHour Thursday night. It was “incoherent,” Bottum said, repeatedly, while addressing the points listed above.

The good word incoherent is defined, in old-fashioned dictionaries, as “without logical connection,” “rambling in reason,” “without congruity of parts.” Maybe this has to happen, when one is trying to answer critics and please supporters and whatever else in the world one speech, in accepting a peace prize, is intended to do. But for our most articulate, thoughtful and presumably peace-loving president in decades, it was a little disappointing — even if I can’t imagine what he might have done differently.

At the regular breakfast meeting of the San Francisco Interfaith Council, a peaceful group if ever there was one, the primary topic that same day was homeless veterans. Guests spoke of services being created and expanded to help the ever-growing population of returning veterans who wind up on the streets. Several members of SFIC are among the group which has shown up every Thursday at noon, rain or shine, for many years outside the Federal Building, to stand silently for peace. Many of them are Quakers, but there are always people of other faiths, or no faith at all except in the possibility of peace. One of them commented, at the end of the breakfast meeting, that the best way to solve the problem of homeless veterans would be to have fewer veterans. Perhaps even no veterans at all. “War,” he said, “is a choice.” His remarks were absolutely coherent.

Perhaps, one of these days, there will be a Nobel Prize for peace that has been made. It would be a lovely follow-up for Mr. Obama to receive a second time.

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