An Obama Tribute to Mandela that Fell Flat in the Rain

I watched President Obama speaking live on television this morning from the Mandela tribute in the Soweto, South African rain, and I felt for him as he struggled against the weather, a bad public address system, and what seemed like a restless audience hoping for him to move faster through his 30-minute monologue so they could get on with their day:

To the people of South Africa — people of every race and every walk of life — the world thanks you for sharing Nelson Mandela with us,” the president said. “His struggle was your struggle. His triumph was your triumph. Your dignity and hope found expression in his life, and your freedom, your democracy is his cherished legacy.”

“It is hard to eulogize any man — to capture in words not just the facts and the dates that make a life, but the essential truth of a person — their private joys and sorrows; the quiet moments and unique qualities that illuminate someone’s soul,” Mr. Obama said. “How much harder to do so for a giant of history, who moved a nation toward justice, and in the process moved billions around the world.”

I could tell Obama was cold and frustrated.  He knew this was his moment to shine in the storm and technology and the terms of the massive stadium were failing him.  He stayed on message.  He delivered the lines as best he could, but there was no magic and no spark.  He appeared defeated and hopeless.

In reading some of the online reports of his speech, one would think he was masterful and in charge and electrifying — and that makes one wonder what speech those reporters were actually watching.

The eyes do not lie and the ears divine the truth and what I saw and heard this morning does not match the on-the-record reports from the mainstream media.  Perhaps I was wrong to sit and listen to the whole speech.  Perhaps, in dribs and drabs, the speech doesn’t seem as timid and untimely in a more limited context.

If there were ever a time for Barack Obama to claim his spot in history next to Mandela — without President Mandela there could never be a President Obama — it was today, and today, the case was not made.  That’s a massive opportunity lost in the ether of time, but I’m not sure if we can blame the weather and the microphone for failing of the measure of the man.

The speech itself was ordinary and unrevealing.  Abraham Lincoln and JFK and Martin Luther King, Jr. would not have been able to deliver the necessary emotional punch the moment demanded — the writing failed the messenger — and that’s the most inexcusable felling of any presidency because the word is devotion and the work is embedded in prose throughout antiquity.

23 comments

  • It just got even worse …………….. not only did he miss his moment in time – he then went on to behave like a teenager at a Justin Beiber concert .

    http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/iv-drip/selfie-at-funeral-cameron-squeezes-in-on-obama-snap-at-mandela-memorial-8996099.html

  • Think all three of them have – did you see the look on the First ladies face – would not want to be Obama when he gets home. The UK press has gone bananas about it ………

    • I think there must have been something in the water. The second Obama was done speaking, Bush leapt up and said something to Hillary and she forced a laugh and wanly smiled and then Bill stood up and said something and sort of short-circuited the energy Bush was pushing at her. Bush, to me, appeared to be behaving as he did in China a while back:

      http://bolesblogs.com/2008/08/14/a-drunk-in-china/

      The ridiculous “selfies at funerals” was a popular Tumblr meme before Obama got involved!

      http://selfiesatfunerals.tumblr.com/

      • I am now wondering what the South African Rain Gods put in the water.

        I wonder if Bush is unwell …….. “not quite all there” as my gran used to say

        This whole selfies thing creeps me out and selfies at funerals – shudder …… and when the elected leaders of the modern world behave in such a disrespectful manner .. there are no words left.

        • I think you’re right about Bush. He has always had demons. Now that he has to live with the lies and deaths of his presidency — actually, Cheney’s Presidency by proxy — I’m sure there isn’t a whole lot of room left in the day reserved for self-reflection. His grey skin and odd smirks suggest something is definitely unwell in the mind of the man and, frankly, who could blame him for trying to find a way out from what happened. He’s a frat boy, not a murderer!

          Bush keenly repeats how he wants history to judge him, but he knows that judgment will be harsh, and that’s why he is fond of saying he can only be truly evaluated a century after he’s dead.

          I don’t get the selfie thing either and doing it at a funeral is just incomprehensible. We live in the “Me, Too!” world where one stupid act breeds a thousand imitators.

  • I have seen that kind of physical instability and the inappropriate behavior coupled together before – and I am trying to think where .

    I can imagine he most certainly does not want to be judged by his peers .

    This is what we have come to – stupidity breeding stupidity ? Time for us to be sterilized then ( tongue firmly in cheek) .

    • I think people have been concerned about Bush for some time now. He’s gone undercover. Cheney, you can’t get away from, but Bush is off-the-grid and I think that’s a smart play. He wouldn’t really be able to answer anything in-depth about his presidency anyway since he wasn’t making any of the hard decisions. I’m sure he still has no idea of 99.999% of what was going on behind his back and being done in his name.

      Yes. Stupid is as stupid does. It rules the day now. This is what we get in a celebrity economy where fame matters more than talent.

  • I think you are right about it being sensible for Bush to be kept off the grid – he really should not have been allowed onto it in the first place.

    Talent is greatly underrated these days – do you think we will tire of the celebrity economy soon – or is it here to stay on one form or another ?

    • Yes, Bush was the puppet president propped up and kept there by Big Money and the Supreme Court. A complete and total shame.

      I think celebrity is here to stay and talent no longer matters because it has no meaning. The goal now is for everyone to be famous, and they’ll want to be known as much as possible — and it won’t make any difference that everyone around them is trying for the same thing. Everyone wants fame. Nobody wants to listen or participate or be a part of something any longer.

      • so it all boils down to a shouting match basically ………. who can be louder more provocative /ruder – not a pleasant thought

        • I don’t think it’s a shouting match — it’s all internalized now — there’s been so much noise and chatter, people have created their own little mindshare prisons where the only sound that matters is that of their own voice telling them how great and special and smart and caring and talented they are.

          Outside interaction is no longer wanted or necessary. They live on Twitter and in YouTube and Hangouts and chat software.

          • SELF(IE) …………….. sadly I see a few on Bookface as well ………..

          • Selfie is the Oxford “word of the year” for 2013!

            The decision was unanimous this year, with little if any argument. This is a little unusual. Normally there will be some good-natured debate as one person might champion their particular choice over someone else’s. But this time, everyone seemed to be in agreement almost from the start. Other words were considered, as you will see from our shortlist, but selfie was the runaway winner. It’s not a new word. For starters, it has already been included in Oxford Dictionaries Online (although not yet in the Oxford English Dictionary), and we wrote about it as part of our occasional Words on the Radar series back in June 2012. But our Word of the Year need not be a new word. However, it does need to demonstrate some kind of prominence over the preceding year or so and selfie certainly fits the bill. It seems like everyone who is anyone has posted a selfie somewhere on the Internet. If it is good enough for the Obamas or The Pope, then it is good enough for Word of the Year.

            http://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2013/11/word-of-the-year-2013-winner/

  • Have just reminded myself of this:

  • Word of the year …………. what is the Oxford English Dictionary coming to ?

    I am so glad I am not a member of the “everyone who is anyone” club !

    • It’s a hard line to run. You don’t want to get left behind and become a Luddite — yet you also don’t want to get caught up in it all that you lose perspective.

      I think these social media networks like Facebook and Twitter and such need more of the indelible old guard to get in there and show them how it’s all supposed to be done. The fresh experience of expectation and wisdom can create a new undercurrent of disruption.

      As of this afternoon, you can now send a picture in a Twitter Direct Message using your iPhone. That’s big news. That’s Twitter directly smashing email and WhatsApp and iMessage and SMS text right in the mouth.

  • trouble is I am a bit of a dinosaur – or a Luddite …………

    That is a huge breakthrough for Twitter . I will have to wait we still cannot get G3 here – you can in Lisbon – you can in Porto and in some parts of the Algarve …………..

    • I don’t get the feeling you’re a Luddite at all. I think you’re in high expert mode for getting stuff done online. You know blogging really well and email and all the other stuff.

      You do need to think about getting your Google+ profile up and running, though. SMILE! It’s sort of being demanded more and more everyday and the trend is toward verified identification online instead of anonymity.

      I know you’re on Twitter, so that’s a great step in that you’re already “there” even if your account is locked. I’m seeing more and more private Twitter accounts today. People want to communicate online but they don’t want to do it right in front of everybody.

  • there is the difference – computers I can handle …….. I am still not comfortable with Google + – especially as every time I open up a page in chrome they ask if they can share my confidential information …….. very disconcerting.

    Twitter I have the name reserved and did use for a bit it is partially locked – I think – will have to go and investigate ……….

    Where I lag behind is in the phones and apps department – although my ipad does have WP and FB on there . I also have a little used camera that will email pictures and or post to facebook if I wish – I need to play with that more – I have a feeling I need the windows lap top for that as it only world on windows.

    I tend not to be an instant post person – so there tends to be a disconnect there – I would rather take time to go through photos and articles before launching my comments about them. I do however like the picture posts you are putting up on Twitter – that in itself might make it more appealing to me. Much better than 128 characters – SMILE !

    • You can have a private Google+ account. You just have to turn off all the information you don’t want shared and Google is careful about you granting permission. You set it once and you’re done. Use the name — real or not — that you want. You don’t have to have anything be public that you don’t want public, including your interactions and circles activity. Google+ wants to know who you are and what you’re doing — but so does Facebook and WordPress and such — but Google doesn’t care if you let others know. You set all these parameters on your Google+ homepage when you set up your profile. I can help you with that when you’re ready.

      I just sent you a FOLLOW request on Twitter from the @DavidBoles account. I think you were following that account and the @BolesBlogs account, too, but I didn’t send a follow request from the new account because I didn’t know if you were active or not.

      Yes, getting an iOS 7 capable device will make all of this invisible and easy. Setting up Facebook and Twitter accounts are now done in the General Settings area of your iPhone and iPad — making it super easy to get stuff up and working. Google+ and other Apps on your iPhone will upload all your new images — and share them or keep them private — as you wish. Google is making great strides in photography that I admire.

      I’m not an instant post person, either. Most of my Tweets are prepped offline and then queued using Sprout Social so they can be spit out at the right time and don’t have to be hovering around in real time. Though there are times, like today when Jim Hall died, that it is neat to be able to “update” the blog sidebar with breaking news and such.

      Putting the images in the Twitter timeline is very new — perhaps a month or so — and the “old timey text only” Tweeters hate it, but I love it because it makes the experience much richer.

      140 characters! Don’t short yourself on 12 characters! SMILE!

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