For 14 minutes that seemed endless last week, our president did his Hamlet bit, delivering a soliloquy instead of anything that might be mistaken for action, or leadership, or anything else presidential. He waxed philosophical, he mused and fretted, he listed the Fors and Againsts, he talked and talked and then ... talked some more. Whether anybody was still listening or not.
It would have taken a masochist or a reporter to have hung around for Barack Obama's whole press conference instead of drifting off to the nearest bar for a good stiff one. We intend no disrespect to bartenders by that remark; we've heard more than a few in our time who could address a question simply and directly. Unlike this president, whose vague subject, which he might actually touch on now and then, was the latest outbreak of racial violence in an American city, this time Baltimore.
And what was it he said? Can anyone recall whole days later? He seemed to be all for peaceful protest (what good American isn't?) and all against the violent kind (which most Americans surely are). He's all for the police except when they abuse their powers. All of which is nice, but none of which much matters if the Hon. Barack Obama isn't going to do anything about what happened in Baltimore except talk about it some more.
Once again the president called for a period of national soul-searching, but it sounded as if he were searching not his soul but his community organizer's manual for ways to involve all but not actually do anything about what had happened in Baltimore.
Who could object to this president's parade of platitudes? There was nothing to object to -- nothing new, nothing of substance ... in short, nothing. For this Americans need a president?
If memory serves, Barack Obama once took an oath to faithfully execute the laws of the United States, but he did everything but that in this 14-minute exercise in talk, not action.
Once upon a time the United States of America had a chief executive who was a chief executive, a president and commander-in-chief of its armed forces who acted like one. His name was Dwight D. Eisenhower, though everybody called him Ike, and many of us -- millions of us -- liked Ike, and trusted him to do the right thing. Some of us still remember and sorely miss him. For behind that infectious grin, there was a general's will and determination.
When civil disorder threatened an American city, and defiance of law was all the rage, literally, Ike gave the troublemakers and talkers and all those who found excuses for them plenty of rope. He let the Jim Johnsons and Orval Faubuses have their extended say.
Ike had patience and tolerance. For a while. He let J. William Fulbright, he of the notorious Southern Manifesto, pretend to be above the fray. Sen. Fulbright's discreet response to the Crisis of '57 was to duck out of the country as it approached. Actually to take a stand for law and order, for the brotherhood of man and the law of the land, might have endangered the senator's precious political career, not to mention his inflated idea of himself as a global statesman.
What were the long-denied rights of millions of his countrymen to James William Fulbright, Rhodes Scholar and Deep Thinker, compared to his promise as the next Metternich or Talleyrand, even if he would turn out to be something closer to the next Chamberlain?
When Ike and the country had had enough of such nonsense, that president didn't just talk but acted. Or rather he let the 101st Airborne act for him. Unmistakably. The message those troops ringing Central High that day in 1957 sent was clear enough -- to the country and the whole watching, waiting world: This was still a nation where law and order would prevail, a nation still dedicated to liberty and justice for all, neither of which is possible if civil order is sacrificed to mob rule. Ike would have none of that. So he acted.
Got any objections? If so, tell it to the Marines, or rather those U.S. Army paratroopers standing there with bayonets at the ready. For here the law would be enforced, not just endlessly discussed.
Imagine if this president had dispatched the 101st to Baltimore last week, or federalized the National Guard there the way Ike did Arkansas' back in '57. The effect would have been electrifying. It would have been clear that the United States of America had a chief executive, a commander-in-chief of its armed forces, a president ... and not just a discussion leader.
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Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer-winning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.