What makes for a credible public voice? A key ingredient is truth.
The crucial difference between Winston Churchill and Baghdad Bob was not their nations’ respective fortunes in war. It was that Churchill was open with the British public about the difficulties his nation faced. He could have tried to pretend otherwise, but he wisely chose not to diminish his own credibility with happy talk.
This comparison comes to mind because President Obama’s address Tuesday night suffered from his enduring failure to understand this. Obama is reputed to have a talent for soaring rhetoric — although can you think of anything memorable he said that wasn’t also risible? — but he is hopeless at connecting with people by acknowledging their real concerns about domestic and international problems.
To be clear, we share Obama’s view that America is not in some kind of hopeless decline, not even now. But he cannot credibly make the case for this by acting as though his own administration’s failures don’t exist, and downplaying the very real threats facing the nation.