Why Romney Sounds Like a Confused Banker

Military analysis.
Sept. 26 2012 5:50 PM

A Tale of Two Speeches

Obama sounded like a president. Romney sounded confused.

(Continued from Page 1)

George W. Bush based his “freedom agenda,” in early 2004, on a similar assumption: that democracy is the natural state of mankind and that it blossoms spontaneously once a dictatorship is toppled. Bush saw elections as freedom’s vehicle, while Romney sees capitalism as the agent. Either way, the two share the notion that the transference is direct and immediate, like a lightning bolt.

President Obama’s U.N. speech harbors no such illusions. At first glance, Obama may seem to share Bush’s premise, declaring that “freedom and self-determination” are “not simply American values or Western values” but “universal values” and that “government of the people, by the people, and for the people is more likely to bring about the stability, prosperity and individual opportunity that serve as a basis for peace in our world.”

But Obama also realizes that this road is often laced with “turmoil”; that “transitions to a new political order” produce “convulsions”; that “true democracy, real democracy is hard work.” The road doesn’t “end with the casting of a ballot.” Rulers will be tempted, in crises, to crack down on dissidents or to “rally the people around perceived enemies” rather than focus “on the painstaking work of reform.”

Advertisement

Speaking of the anti-Muslim video that sparked violence in Libya, Egypt, and elsewhere, Obama said he recognizes that not all countries share the American concept of freedom of speech. But, he added, in the era of cell phones and the Internet, “the notion that we can control the flow of information is obsolete.”

Besides, he noted to spirited applause, “There are no words that excuse the killing of innocents … no video that justifies an attack on an embassy.”

The real conflict going on in the world, especially in the Middle East, he said, is between those who want to angle onto the road to democracy and those who want to blow it up—“a choice,” Obama put it, “between the promise of the future or the prisons of the past.”

This was no “apology” for American values; it was a realistic assertion of their power and appeal. It was in fact an invitation—a demand—for the world’s leaders, especially those facing militant challenges within their own borders, to step up and choose sides, to set a course.

“No government or company, no school or NGO will be confident working in a country where its people are endangered,” Obama said. “For partnerships to be effective, our citizens must be secure and our efforts must be welcome.”

This is a simple fact, not a threat, and it’s a far more potent incentive than the dangled carrots of Romney’s Prosperity Pacts. Obama added, “America stands ready to work with all who are willing to embrace a better future.” He said nothing about what other countries had to do to earn our largesse. He certainly said nothing about teaching them how to run their economies. There is no such agenda because Obama seems to know that there can’t be, that disparate countries—with disparate societies and political systems—can find common ground in common battles.

Romney’s speech, at its best moments, was a sidebar to a broader statement about the nature, scope, and prospects of today’s global crises. Obama’s speech was that statement.

TODAY IN SLATE

Sports Nut

Grandmaster Clash

One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company

Science

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

Food

How to Order Chinese Food

First, stop thinking of it as “Chinese food.”

Scotland Is Inspiring Secessionists Across America

You Shouldn’t Spank Anyone but Your Consensual Sex Partner

Moneybox
Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Jurisprudence
Sept. 18 2014 10:42 AM Scalia’s Liberal Streak The conservative justice’s most brilliant—and surprisingly progressive—moments on the bench.
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 18 2014 12:47 PM How One of the Most Prolific Known Forgers in Modern History Faked Great Works of Art
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 18 2014 12:03 PM The NFL Opines on “the Role of the Female”
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
  Arts
Behold
Sept. 18 2014 12:37 PM The Movies May Have Forgotten About Them, but Black Cowboys Are Thriving
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 18 2014 12:46 PM The World Is Warming. So Why Is Antarctic Sea Ice Hitting Record Highs?
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 18 2014 7:30 AM Red and Green Ghosts Haunt the Stormy Night
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.