Paul Waldman: Obama Takes ‘The Long View’ on ISIS, Avoids 'Anger and Fear'

On Wednesday, American Prospect blogger Paul Waldman noted the rhetorical contrast between President Obama and Vice President Biden regarding ISIS. Essentially, Obama has sounded cool and detached, a la Miles Davis, whereas a revved-up Biden, in a Portsmouth, N.H. speech, worked up a sweat and fed off the energy of the audience in the manner of Bruce Springsteen.

“You get a sense now,” wrote Waldman, “that not only is [Obama] being cautious about what actions the United States should take with regard to ISIS, he's also being cautious in how he talks about it. He doesn't want to raise expectations of a quick and glorious victory.”

From Waldman’s post (emphasis added):

When [Obama] first ran for president…[h]e made his listeners feel things like hope, optimism, and inspiration. Which is all well and good, but a country that can't go more than a few years without invading somebody needs a leader who knows how to beat the war drums…

Barack Obama is not that leader. He doesn't do anger and fear, probably because he tends not to get angry or afraid. So who can step up to don that mantle? Little Joey Biden, that's who:

…[Biden] paid tribute to [Steven] Sotloff before vowing justice against his killers.

"The American people are so much stronger, so much more resolved than any enemy can fully understand," Biden said. "As a nation we are united and when people harm Americans we don't retreat, we don't forget. We take care of those who are grieving and when that's finished, they should know we will follow them to the gates of hell until they are brought to justice because hell is where they will reside."

…This is part of Biden's unique charm: He'll take whatever emotion he senses a moment calls for, and crank it up to 11.

Not so his boss. Taking the long view has always been one of Obama's strengths…You get a sense now that not only is he being cautious about what actions the United States should take with regard to ISIS, he's also being cautious in how he talks about it. He doesn't want to raise expectations of a quick and glorious victory…It's as though he's asking himself how what he says today is going to look six months from now.

You can see this as both a strength and a weakness. As sensible as it is, and whatever it might do to tamp down the fervor for ill-considered action, it does place him at a certain distance from his audience when he declines to channel the more fervid emotions they might be feeling. This is a real contrast with [George W. Bush]…

If you wanted a president who would stand on a pile of rubble and promise vengeance, Bush was your guy. An Obama partisan would point out that though Bush's approval may have skyrocketed, when he left office seven years later Osama bin Laden was still at large; the al Qaeda leader wasn't caught until the more sober Barack Obama was running things.  

In the end, the results are what really matters.

Tom Johnson
Tom Johnson
Tom Johnson is a contributing writer for NewsBusters