The Daily Beast
September 25, 2012
By John Avlon
President Obama can be, if anything, overrated as an orator. Some of his heavily hyped speeches—such as his Charlotte convention address—fall flat or fall short.
That was not the case with his U.N. address Tuesday.
Certainly, the stakes were high—two weeks after the murder of the first American ambassador since 1979, his killers still at large, and the hope of the Arab Spring given to shadows and fog.
Against this backdrop, while world leaders met yesterday at the General Assembly, the president seemed in campaign mode—making time for the ladies of The View but not for Prime Minister Netanyahu or Egypt’s newly elected leader Mohammad Morsi. Moreover, his administration’s statements in the wake of ambassador Chris Stevens’s death have been confused and at times contradictory.
But President Obama’s fourth speech to the United Nation’s General Assembly rose to the occasion and to the heights to which he is capable. It was a vision and values speech grounded in the tumultuous facts on the world stage today, using the legacy of the slain Stevens as a narrative frame for the American spirit and the spirit of freedom that extends beyond borders.
Today we must reaffirm that our future will be determined by people like Chris Stevens, and not by his killers. Today we must declare that this violence and intolerance has no place among our united nations.
Obama’s eloquence can require a healthy discount to make distinct the difference between words and actions. But this speech in front of a world audience aimed higher than the typical tenor of a campaign. It laid out a durable vision in a statement of American values that can translate around the world.
American internationalism—engagement and even intervention—was robustly defended in almost Bush-ian Freedom Agenda tones, albeit with a hat-tip toward Lincoln:
“We have taken these positions because we believe that freedom and self-determination are not unique to one culture. These are not simply American values or Western values; they are universal values. And even as there will be huge challenges to come with the transition to democracy, I am convinced that ultimately government of the people, by the people, and for the people is more likely to bring about the stability, prosperity, and individual opportunity that serve as a basis for peace in our world.”
So far so good, but what we didn’t know from advance copies of the speech, was whether the president would confidently defend the right of free speech in the wake of the video-incited riots. Thankfully, he did, offering something of a civics lesson to Muslim world.