On Sunday, December 6, at 8:00 pm ET, President Obama will address the nation from the Oval Office about the steps our government is taking to fulfill his highest priority: Keeping the American people safe.It's hard to imagine this speech being well received. The discussion afterward will be dominated by conservatives, who'll judge it on one main criterion: He didn't say "Islamic extremism"! (Or "Islamic terrorism" or "radical Islam" or whichever phrase they think will magically eliminate terrorism.)
He will provide an update on the ongoing investigation into the tragic attack in San Bernardino. He will also discuss the broader threat of terrorism -- including the nature of the threat, how it has evolved, and how we will defeat it.
He will reiterate his firm conviction that ISIL will be destroyed and that the United States must draw upon our values -- our unwavering commitment to justice, equality, and freedom -- to prevail over terrorist groups that use violence to advance a destructive ideology.
The president also won't call for a ground war in Syria -- not that very many Republicans, apart from Lindsey Graham, will suggest that either, but they'll upbraid him for not being tough enough regardless. Also, he might bring up gun control, which will really set them howling.
But it's not just the right. Yesterday I quoted this Patrick Healy story, which The New York Times published on Wednesday. However, I didn't quote one of the main points Healy made: that voters anxious about terrorism not only want a tough president, they want the sort of president who exists only in movies:
“Get off my plane,” growls the president of the United States to a terrorist hijacker in the 1997 movie “Air Force One,” before snapping the enemy’s neck and shoving him out the cargo door.Healy writes, "No one expects a president to be an action movie star," as if voters wish for that but are mature enough to realize it's impossible. However, the voters he quotes convey the impression that an action-hero president is precisely what they want:
Triumphal music swells. The good guys have won. And no less than Harrison Ford has shown what a president can do if he is Han Solo and Indiana Jones rolled into one.
With the Islamic State suddenly rivaling the economy as their top concern in recent polls, many voters are looking for wartime strategies from the 2016 presidential candidates. But after seven years of a cerebral President Obama, there is no denying that some also want a leader who radiates gutsiness and a take-charge resolve. Not simply the “strong leader” that pollsters ask about, but someone who makes them feel safe on a visceral level.
Older voters point to Ronald Reagan, standing up to the Soviet Union. Others find inspiration in film, America’s dominant cultural form, and the grit of a Bill Pullman in “Independence Day,” a Jamie Foxx in “White House Down.” No one expects a president to be an action movie star, but anxious voters want a leader who will go to courageous lengths to protect the United States against attacks like the ones in Paris on Nov. 13.
“In scary times, you want heroes as presidents,” said Barbara Hovland, the Republican chairwoman in the Mason City area of Iowa. “Who doesn’t want a president who can take care of himself, his family and the country at the same time, like Harrison Ford did? When Donald Trump said recently in Iowa that he would cut off the heads of ISIS, the crowd went wild.”Obama's not going to give Americans that tonight, is he?
... “We need someone who understands that ISIS is 10 times more dangerous than Al Qaeda was,” said Dean Nason, a Republican in Wakefield, N.H. “Movie presidents make you feel good....”
And he's going to be competing with tough-talkin' Ted Cruz:
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) on Saturday is rolling out a series of TV ads in Iowa, including one aimed at bolstering his credentials to fight terrorism if elected president....
“If I’m elected to serve as Commander-in-Chief, we won’t cower in the face of evil. America will lead,” Cruz says directly into the camera. “We’ll rebuild our military. We’ll kill the terrorists. And every Islamic extremist will know, if you wage jihad against us, you’re signing your death warrant.”
And, of course, with Trump:
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said in an interview aired Sunday that he would "go after" family members of terrorists because they "know what's happening" when their loved ones commit acts of terrorism.Centrist pundits know this is empty -- and, in Trump's case, alarming -- bombast, but they'll still lament that Obama's speech didn't rally the nation the way bombast would.
Trump said on CBS' "Face The Nation" that he would've gone after the wives of the terrorists in the World Trade Center attacks because they knew it was going to happen.
"At least I would certainly go after the wives who absolutely knew it was happening, and I guess your definition of what I'd do, I'm going to leave that to your imagination," Trump said.
Obama's slower, more patient approach may be correct, but we're children -- we don't want to hear that. We want Daddy to make it all better now now now.