Watching Obama lose his screen on screen duel with Dick Cheney yesterday I was reminded of some lines from Paradise Lost.
"Thus Belial with words clothed in reason's garb
Counselled ignoble ease and peaceful sloth, not peace."
But while the silver-tongued minor devil Belial would no doubt have approved the President's new surrender-monkey "realist" approach to the war on terror, I doubt he would have been so impressed with his oratorical skills. Never mind the bizarre reputation Obama has acquired as a great public speaker: his speeches are fast beginning to sound almost as excruciating as anything in his predecessor's "enhanced interrogation program."
Yeah, I know, I know. I too was taken in when I first heard him speak. I remember thinking when I heard that measured, steady voice with its pleasant but authoritative timbre that here was a guy fit to govern the world. He sounded cool. Clint Eastwood "Make my day" cool.
Now, though, that novelty has worn off. Now, it's becoming clear that this carefully worked, glacial poise is all there is to Obama. He's just a hollow man spouting empty rhetoric.
Compare and contrast the flatulent pomposity of Obama's speech with Cheney's angry, from-the-heart, tell-it-like-it-is riposte. No one is accusing Cheney of being the next Marc Antony but as Toby Harnden rightly says, he had some strong points to make and his audience got the message.
Obama's speech on the other hand, was the usual grandiloquent exercise in high-sounding nothingness. Apart from the familiar gangsta-rap-style boasting about how big and important he now is ("I took an oath as your Commander In Chief.."), all he had to offer were platitudes designed - a la Belial - to make inaction and pusillanimity in the war on terror look the only sensible course.
One of his favourite techniques is the false opposition, as here:
"On one side of the spectrum are those who make little allowance for the the unique challenges posed by terrorism and would almost never put national security over transparency. And on the other end of the spectrum are those who can embrace a view that can be summarised in two words: anything goes. Both sides may be sincere in their views. But neither is right."
Except nobody in the world cleaves to either of these positions. They have been conjured from thin air by Obama - and his trusty teleprompter - in order to make out that anyone who disagrees with his woolly centrist position must perforce be some kind of whacko extremist nut job.
Maybe when you're out on the campaign trail there's a certain sense in this kind of airy nonsense: you don't after all want to pin yourself down to a position your opponents can trap you on; you just want to generate a general feeling of benevolence towards you.
But when you're president of the USA, this approach really doesn't wash. You have responsibilities. Your words have consequences. A deadpan delivery is no longer enough.