Ruminations – Feb 8, 2010

It may seem like I’m picking on petty things tonight, but there isn’t too much major news to chew over, and these thoughts have occurred to me over the last week.


At this week’s prayer breakfast, President Obama told a heartwarming story of a Louisiana army medic helping a Haitian woman, telling her in Cajun that the country that was helping here was the good ol’ USA.  He was a Navy corpsman named Christian Brossard.  The embarrassing thing was, that Obama pronounced it – twice – as “corpseman” instead of the proper pronunciation, “cor-man.”  Now I don’t know about you, but I think this is not just an embarrassing slip of the tongue – it’s another one of those unscripted moments where the real Obama shines through.  I mean, I never served in the military, and my family doesn’t have much of a tradition of it, although my father, bless him, did the hard stuff in World War II.  But to my ear it was jarring to hear the president’s mispronunciation.  So I’m led to ask, why wasn’t it jarring to him?  After all, “corps” is a common word in the military – you have the Marine Corps, the Army Air Corps, and so on.  And of course you have the Peace Corps, and many other govie organizations where people are mobilized into a body.


Now, this guy is smart.  And if he is aware of anything, he is aware of how he comes across when he’s behind a lectern.  And yet, those little internal alarm bells that alert us all to impending humiliation didn’t go off when he mis-read his teleprompter the first time, and he stepped right in it again the next time it came up on the screen.  Must be, I can think of no other explanation of it, that he hasn’t heard that expression before.  In his life.  I mean, this guy is the Commander in Chief, and he doesn’t know how to refer to certain of his troops?  And think on this – did he not rehearse these remarks?  Or at least discuss them with a speech writer or close staffers?  Did the word “corpsman” never arise in their discussions – or did no one in that discussion in the heart of the White House know how to pronounce it?


Now, I heard somebody on the radio offer the excuse that that’s the way they pronounce it in Boston – you know, kind of like “pahk the cah in Hahvahd Yahd.”  But I don’t buy that, for several reasons.  First, Obama is not from Boston.  He doesn’t pronounce anything else as if he were a bean-towner, so why should he pick up this particular verbal mannerism?  He’s from Chicago – or at least that’s where he made his career, and I can tell you for a fact that around here we don’t go around talking about “corpse-men.”  Frankly, I doubt if they do in Boston, either.


Furthermore – what ought to matter is how the military guys themselves say it.  The C-in-C ought to refer to his men and women in uniform in terms that express respect for them, not disregard, including pronunciations that show solidarity.  And I can guarantee you that nobody in uniform refers to a “corpse-man,” for obvious reasons.


I think it’s just one more manifestation of Obama the elitist, the academic liberal who knows little about the military and has little interest in learning.  And here’s a sweet irony – Obama chided everyday Americans during the campaign for being insular – I remember he used the example of American tourists going to France and expecting the locals to speak English.  Learning French, by implication, being too much work for us lazy Americans.  Never mind that Obama speaks no foreign language – and the irony is, of course, that “corps” is French!   It is one of those Frenchisms that we have adopted, like cafe-au-lait, into our patois.  But (perhaps in a subconscious attempt to prove his own point) Obama blunders over the pronunciation of a French word, the proper speaking of which is extremely common in this country.


And while we’re on the subject of prayer, doesn’t it seem passing strange that Obama attended Jeremiah Wright’s church for twenty years, and listened to the victimology catechism of its pastor (without of course, ever hearing  anything to concern, say, the father of young girls who might object to shouts of God Damn America and similar uplifting sentiments) all that time, and now he is in Washington for a whole year and they haven’t found a church to attend.  They have been to services exactly four times.  I’m pretty sure that just about every other President has made it a point to attend services, and the hassle of the security detail and all the rest that Obama has used as an excuse didn’t bother any of his predecessors.  So on the one hand, he is a loyal parishioner in a church that spouts a theology of resentment rather than love, but then can’t seem to find a church in DC that suits his spiritual yearnings.  I don’t know – the whole thing seems like a sham to me.  I maintained early on that he attended Wright’s church not because he believed that stuff, but because it was a good way for a newcomer in town to establish his street cred in the South Side power and influence grid.  Now, of course, that he’s president of all the people, he doesn’t need the boost by association.  At least now, perhaps he’s being more honest.


Another observation.  President Obama has had exactly four press conferences since his inauguration.  Lots of one-on-one interviews, no question, but those are inevitably respectful, quiet affairs, even when he is interviewed by Fox News.  There has been very little of the think-on-your-feet, impudently hurled questions from an unruly press pack that other presidents have put up with.  Granted, Bush didn’t like that forum either, and his record is no better than Obama.  But Obama is supposed to be the non-Bush.  And transparency was to be his watchword.  And the press love him – or at least they did for the first nine months or so.  They would have lobbed him such puff-balls he should have been able to knock them out of the park with a walking stick.  And yet, such is his focus on controlling his message that he rarely risks being knocked off-course by a question from left field.  This is a minor criticism, I guess, and perhaps it’s petty.  But if he is the vanguard of the New Politics, The One We Have Been Waiting For, the New Messiah, why is he so reticent about going before the press to answer the questions the people want answered?



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