Initial reaction to Bush’s 9/11 speech…

The president has just finished speaking. As soon as a text is available, I’ll begin an analysis for Presidential Campaign Rhetoric 2004, which I hope to have posted by tomorrow afternoon. For the moment, I’ll offer a few initial thoughts about what I heard.

There were powerful moments in this speech and a few clunky moments, too. It was unevenly written and, no surprise for this president, unevenly delivered. I find myself wondering what our “great communicator” Ronald Reagan could have done with this moment carried on the words of Peggy Noonan. A great speech is more than great words, however. A great speech, delivered by a leader trying times, requires a commanding presence that Bush just cannot muster in the way that Reagan could. Many of Reagan’s speeches seem rather bland today read in pages of books. But he knew how to stand and deliver in a way that made you believe. And his media people knew how to create a stirring scene.

Bush used much religious rhetoric and imagery, and I wonder about this. It harkens back to our cherished myth of a land blessed by God for the use of a great, free people. It also sounds like the preaching that precedes a crusade.

I think it was an excellent decision to keep the address short. And the White House media people did a splendid job creating the scene. The glowing Statue of Liberty over his right shoulder and a rippling American flag over his left symbolically and majestically fought back the darkness.

I think Bush has delivered better speeches–some very good ones in my estimation, which include his inaugural address, this year’s State of the Union address, and his speech before the joint session of Congress following the catastrophe of 9/11.

Should this have been his finest speech? I think it should have been, but he fell short in my opinion. Does this suggest that Bush is a mediocre president and leader. No, it does not. Instead, he’ll have to continue to struggle with the knowledge that he lacks one important presidential skill–the power to stand and deliver from a podium–while he continues to lead this nation in a just and moral fight against terrorism.