After Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt asked Americans to pull out their world maps and turn on their radios. In a Feb. 23, 1942 “fireside chat,” he eased fears, squelched rumors, and doused the last embers of isolationism. “This war is a new kind of war,” Roosevelt declared.
It is different from all other wars of the past, not only in its methods and weapons but also in its geography. It is warfare in terms of every continent, every island, every sea, every air lane in the world.
Fourteen years after terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, the United States is mired in a new kind of war, and its latest twist – an apparent ISIS-inspired attack in San Bernardino, Calif. – is stoking fear, inciting anti-Muslim demagoguery, and intensifying doubts about the leadership of President Barack Obama. In a rare Oval Office address, just the third of his presidency, Obama’s obligations tracked those of Roosevelt.
- Acknowledge the public’s fears, don’t dismiss them.
- Explain his strategy in a simple and compelling way.
- Respond to critics factually and without defensiveness.
- Ask for the public’s support and service.
The good news is Obama hit every mark in a forceful defense of U.S. values and strength. The bad news is he didn’t make the speech weeks or months ago and much of the country is predisposed not to trust his leadership. Obama also complicated his job by diluting his focus.
First, what he did well.
After seeming to ignore or even dismiss the public’s fears after attacks in Paris, Colorado and California, Obama said it’s perfectly natural for people to see themselves, their kids, and their friends as potential victims. “I know after so much war, many Americans are asking whether we are confronted by a cancer that has no immediate cure.”