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Transmissions from a Lone Star: Free Speech and Stating the Obvious

16:29 26/09/2012
Weekly column by Daniel Kalder
Tags: United States

It can be very difficult for outsiders to grasp what is really going on in a foreign country, however often it is in the headlines. I saw this when I lived in Moscow. Every day I would read something in the UK or U.S. press and be appalled at the trite, superficial, and generally pitiful level of analysis of Russia on offer.

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Now that I live in the United States, I feel the same way about this country.

Since American newspapers are pompous and dull, I don't read them. I prefer the scurrilous British journalistic style. But there is so much ill-informed nonsense about America in the British press that I often wonder why I bother. For instance, I don't think I've ever read one article that articulates just how long-winded and boring Obama is when he gives a speech.

If you don't live here, then you'll probably remember a few vaguely inspiring, yet curiously forgettable, speeches that Obama made prior to his election, and of course the address full of touchy-feely blather and assorted historical inaccuracies he delivered in Cairo in 2009.

But Obama has given many, many more speeches than that. In fact, for the first two years of his presidency he just wouldn’t stop “havering” (as we say in Scotland.)

Clearly he'd read all that “great orator” hype in the papers and succumbed to his own myth. Thus, in early 2009, he started appearing on TV to talk to us – the people. A lot.

This was highly annoying. There I’d be, settling down to watch Hell’s Kitchen, and all of a sudden Obama appears and starts rambling on as if America was Cuba and he was Fidel.

Then, after an hour or so, he would vanish, and the godforsaken “analysis” would begin.

I watched two or three of these addresses, and then stopped. What was the point? Obama is an utterly conventional thinker who says nothing that you will not find in a New York Times op ed. The rest is just him promoting his policies.

Not only that, but whenever he did displace Two and a Half Men from the listings to pitch healthcare reform, support for the policy often declined.

The president perhaps reached the nadir of bad rhetoric when, during a televised address at West Point Military Academy, he essentially let the Taliban know that, since the United States was planning to quit Afghanistan in any case, if they just waited a couple more years they could have it back.

Even the usual media sycophants conceded that he seemed a small, isolated and uncomfortable figure on stage, although many still argued that the president’s new strategy of “let’s get out of this dump!” was tactical awesomeness.

After that I gave up cable and stopped watching network TV, and so was rarely troubled by Obama’s waffle.

I understand that he does still like to appear on TV and address the people.

Last week he even appeared on Pakistani TV to assure the citizens of that unhappy country that his government had nothing to do with the Youtube clip that nobody needs to watch if they don’t want to and yet which many people in the Muslim world are very, very, angry about.

It was, as usual, an ineffective performance: the next day the rioting went into overdrive, more people died, and one member of Pakistan’s government offered $100,000 to anyone who murdered the man who made the clip – a U.S. citizen, by the way. 

Undeterred, Obama decided to make another speech, this time at the UN, which - if you haven't heard about it - is a club popular with tyrants, gay-bashers and lefty Europeans. Oh no, I thought, here we go again.

After two weeks of rioting and violence, what I really wanted was for a Western leader to argue forcefully for free speech and point out that it is unjust to exclude one interpretation of the world from criticism while permitting all others to be subject to scrutiny (and abuse).

I wanted to hear someone ask why those who do not follow a particular faith must nonetheless be bound by its taboos (over 80% of the world does not practice Islam) and to point out that were it not for the joy of heresy we would still believe that the earth is 6,000 years old and that it is the center of the universe.

Yes, it is bad manners to insult somebody’s faith, but it should not be a criminal offence and heaven knows it's nothing to murder people over. We are not living in the Middle Ages, thank God.   

There’s no way he’s going to say all those things, I thought. And he didn’t, or at least not exactly. But buried inside all the platitudes there was nonetheless a strong defense of the First Amendment.

He did not apologize for America’s freedom of speech, he more or less told the world to deal with it. How refreshing, to hear an obvious truth spoken aloud!

And so for once, I am listening. But as for those who most need to hear Obama’s message – well, I suspect that’s another matter entirely.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

What does the world look like to a man stranded deep in the heart of Texas? Each week, Austin- based author Daniel Kalder writes about America, Russia and beyond from his position as an outsider inside the woefully - and willfully - misunderstood state he calls “the third cultural and economic center of the USA.”

Daniel Kalder is a Scotsman who lived in Russia for a decade before moving to Texas in 2006. He is the author of two books, Lost Cosmonaut (2006) and Strange Telescopes (2008), and writes for numerous publications including The Guardian, The Observer, The Times of London and The Spectator.

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RIA NovostiDaniel KalderTransmissions from a Lone Star: Free Speech and Stating the Obvious

16:29 26/09/2012 It can be very difficult for outsiders to grasp what is really going on in a foreign country, however much of a headline it is. I saw this when I lived in Moscow. Every day I would read something in the UK or U.S. press and be appalled at the trite, superficial, and generally pitiful level of analysis of Russia on offer.>>

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