President Obama's speech on the ongoing Iraq drawdown was a very strange kind of Oval Office address. It revealed a president who had grown in his first year in office, but also a president who is struggling for a way to connect with the American people.
The speech was partly a tacit acknowledgement of the success of the troop surge in Iraq - an effort Obama and his top lieutenants bitterly opposed. Obama's grace note about President Bush's patriotism was a high point.
But the speech was also an effort to explain the need to apply the tactics of Iraq to Afghanistan. Since Obama is marking the drawdown at an arbitrary date set as a candidate and on a strictly semantic basis ("combat brigades" versus "combat troops" is a thin hair to split), it was a tough pivot. This portion of the speech sounded like he was answering a question at a debate or in a law school class. His pointed remark about "fulfilling a campaign promise" in Iraq seemed a bit crass when talking about American heroes and national security.
As many have noted before, Obama may use the language of a war president, but his dry, logical presentations do not stir the American heart to martial challenges.
The portion of the speech given over to the economy, though, was the most off putting. Obama's speech ran three times longer than the most memorable Oval Office speeches, like Ronald Reagan's 5-minute paean to the astronauts of the Challenger - "To slip the surly bonds of earth and touch the face of God..." Obama's section on the economy seemed utterly like an election year addition. Worse, the message was unappealing.
Obama asked Americans to use the kind of toughness and determination to get the economy going that troops in Iraq have shown in fighting insurgents. Voters are worried that the American Dream is through and Obama was calling on them to do what? Endure in a long slog to partial victory. Obama's sober rendering of the terrible challenges ahead in Iraq and Afghanistan was an unhappy point of comparison for the American economy.
Americans have been conditioned to partial military victories since the end of the Korean War, but we are absolutists on the economy. The American economy has remained in a boom and bust cycle since before there was an American government.
The president's suggestion of a long counterinsurgency against the weak economy lacked the grace of other parts of his speech. It is also not a message likely to please voters who are anxious to see recovery, not endure recession. His speechwriters had little to work with and would have been better off just to brush off the pollsters and political advisers and leave the economy out.
Obama today will apply himself to the question of brokering peace between Israelis and Palestinians as Middle Eastern leaders come to the White House for dinner.
Anxious pollsters and political advisers will again be concerned that the issue is off the economy. The president would be well served to avoid any comparisons between the disputed territories in east Jerusalem and the economy.
Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as digital politics editor based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he authors the daily "Fox News First" political news note and hosts "Power Play," a feature video series, on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on the network, including "The Kelly File," "Special Report with Bret Baier," and "Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace." He also provides expert political analysis for Fox News coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.