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Praise for Obama

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There is an old adage in journalism that says if both sides are mad at you, then you’ve done your job. FOX and Drudge are foaming at the mouth, accusing Obama of capitulating to terrorist demands (though Clinton and W. both suggested the 1967 lines), while those on the other side, including many on this website, are equally enraged. Frankly I’m still trying to figure out why. 

True, the first three-quarters of the speech were fairly rote and uninspired — a yawn inducing string of platitudes, it seemed. But when Obama reached the critical portion he had my attention. 

When the president turned to the matter of Palestine and Israel I had the stirring feeling one gets when Obama is at his most impressive, when he’s warming to his subject, and starts hitting his preacher’s stride. 

From his bully pulpit, after calling for the ball, he dared to tell some simple truths that the world is not used to hearing from an American leader. Still, some on this side of the issue accuse him of traitorous timidity (indeed, the fact that the few things he said could be considered the stuff of the third rail is itself an indictment of how straitjacketed the discussion is). But for him to do so just before Bibi shows up for his annual AIPAC pep rally — to be followed by a Congressional command performance — and with 2012 so close, seemed downright brave.

This site prides itself on its adherence to “realism.” So let’s be real. 

For me, the crux of the biscuit — the heart of the speech — was the president’s description of the fathers rising above the deaths of their children. It was a simple comparison, but with a multi-dimensional effect.

Not only was it incredibly moving, but it was also the first time I’ve heard Obama refer to the horrors of Operation Cast Lead. What’s more, he drew a kind of obvious and terrible equivalence: an Israeli child’s death at the hand of Hamas is as awful as young Gazan sisters blown to bits by an Israeli shell. 

And by providing these parental illustrations — parent/child being arguably the most fundamental and precious of human relations — Obama laid out the stark “realistic” choice before both parties: either maintain the eternal heart-wrenching standoff, or rise above it. Make your choice. 

More realism. Palestinians, Jordanians, Lebanese, Syrians, Iranians, Egyptians and Saudis — Hamas and Hezbollah, Shia and Sunni — Israel isn’t going anywhere without a terrible fight; Israel, millions of Arabs are not about to magically disappear. Make your choice.

Either listen to your better angels, like the two fathers described by Obama, or prepare for this six-decade blood feud to reach its dénouement. 

Obama’s pragmatism can be infuriating. It’s understandable why many who voted for him feel as if they were hoodwinked, ala Cornel West. But I think we have to give credit where credit is due.

Obama’s words were more powerful than I expected them to be. Will they change anything? We can only hope.

Peter Voskamp

Peter Voskamp is a freelance writer based in Washington, DC.

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