The curse of a golden presidential tongue

Wesley Pruden

Some of Barack Obama’s best friends are Jews. He says so himself. (Who knew?) The Poles, not so much.

Mr. Obama is afflicted with golden tongue disease (croesus tungitus, in the medical dictionaries), common to those with an eloquent tongue, particularly if the tongue is forked and bleeds around the edges. The tongue is sometimes set off and running before the brain is fully engaged. In the president’s case, the disease is probably terminal.

The president and his croesus tungitus have had a rough week. First he offended the Polish government with a reference to “Polish death camps” instead of saying “Nazi death camps in Poland,” and then he offended facts, reality and 20 American Conservative rabbis with his assertions that he is, too, a good friend of Israel, because he knows more about Judaism than any president before him, and besides, some of his best friends are Jews.

Woodrow Wilson.

Speakers afflicted with a golden tongue (usually of fool’s gold) squirm into trouble because they think they can say anything and the audiences will swoon no matter how foolish and absurd the message. Many times the man with the golden tongue is correct, and therein lies the trap in the rap. Sometimes the babble for the rabble doesn’t make anybody swoon.

The president expected the 20 rabbis to swoon on cue, either from the unalloyed joy of being in the presence of the long-awaited messiah, or from something he said. Because his brain was not fully engaged, he pandered with the oldest cliché in the repertoire of ecumenical panderers. This, alas, was not an audience as gullible as the president thought it was.

Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper, reported that Mr. Obama boasted to the assembled rabbis that he knows “more about Judaism” because he reads a lot, talks a lot and even, sometimes, listens a lot. When you’re sitting around with your pals from the old community-organizing days in Chicago, the lights dim and the second or third bottle of wine lending a mellow tone to the evening, the conversation will naturally turn to theology, and to Moses and Lot, Jeremiah, Joshua, Nehemiah, Micah, Isaiah and all those old dead Jewish guys.

Mr. Obama no doubt learned all this at his Muslim school in Indonesia, and when he got to Chicago he heard a lot of Jewish stuff from the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, his mentor in the faith who, after all, carried the name of a Jewish prophet. Who else in America, president or not, can boast of a religious education as careful and as thorough as that? But by the way, why do the friends of Israel, Jewish and Christian alike, always pick on him?

He told the rabbis, Haaretz writes, that he “wondered how come no one asks Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner or Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell about their support to Israel.” Said Mr. Obama: “I [am] not going to tell you again how I even feel about Israel, but why [are] we still talking about it?”

Why, indeed. But look who brought the subject up. Mr. Obama and the Democrats just can’t resist talking about religion in this campaign, using it to divide us, and we haven’t even got to the Mormons yet. In the president’s mind, the 43 presidents before him don’t count. He’s the one.

But some of the presidents before him actually did study the Jewish religion, even without Jeremiah Wright as mentor. John Adams and James Madison understood Latin, Greek and Hebrew. Woodrow Wilson, a Presbyterian parson’s son, grew up listening to his father sometimes preach the Gospel from the Old Testament. Jimmy Carter taught from the Old Scripture as well as from the New in his Baptist Sunday school class.

An authentic Bible scholar knows that precision is the better part of speech. Presidents must heed this in affairs of state as well. President Obama is getting a bit of a bad rap for his referring to the death camps as “Polish death camps” instead of “Nazi death camps.” His sin here was clumsy use of language, which can happen when the speaker thinks he owns the language and cannot err. The president of Poland, while demanding something more than “regrets,” concedes that he is “certain” that the president’s slip of the tongue “in no way reflects the thoughts or views of our American friend.”

But a man with a golden tongue has only himself to blame when he loses himself in the magic of his own voice. He hears a giant sucking sound and thinks it’s the sound of a swoon. Presidents do that at their peril.

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.

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