In TV terms, Obama's 'big' speech overwhelmed by terrorist threat talk, football

The Baltimore Sun

President Obama finally gave his "big" jobs speech on national TV Thursday night. Only it wasn't nearly large enough to compete with news of a "credible" but "unconfirmed" terrorist threat and the start of National League Football's regular season.

There is something sad and perhaps even dangerous about that -- but it is true. That's the state of American culture today.

Television speaks its own language -- a language that appears obvious and common sense on the surface, but connects with our consciousness at a dozen, different, deeper levels. For all our channel changers and technology that provide the illusion of a consumer in control of a million possibilities, that is not how we really consume TV. Most of us simply sit down in front of the tube at the end of a hard day and let it flow all over us.

And the dominant flow Thursday night was from the speech to cable and network news coverage of the terrorist threat to, "Are you ready for some football?"

The beleaguered Obama had barely exited the Capitol when the news anchors left behind their gangs of political analysts set to talk about his American Jobs Act to bring on national security correspondents to report on a terrorist threat in connection with the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

And by the time the threat was put in some perspective, it was time for football on NBC. It was 8:30, and Kid Rock was standing onstage outside Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin, flanked by jumbo screens filled with gigantic electronic American flags. He sang about being "born free" while a sea of tailgaters waved little American flags in time to the music.

And when he was through, inside the stadium it was time for the National Anthem. This time, the entire stands were turned into a giant undulating American flag. At at the end of the song, four jets swooped low over the crowd.

That's the definition of a civic life in America today -- oversized, electronic symbols of patriotism, emotional rock anthems filled with words like "freedom," toy flags and spectacle. Military jets fly over stadiums where multi-million-dollar games are played -- even as we are on the verge of economic collapse, mired in wars we can't afford and all but owned by China.

We teter on the edge of economic disaster, and for all his talk of fierce urgency, our president doesn't have a strong enough message or personality any more to distract us from our fears (terrorist attacks) and games (Packers and Saints). The medium he so towered over and majestically seemed to own that glorious night in November, 2008, in Chicago's Grant Park now overwhelms him.

I don't know if our president got smaller or our problems got so much bigger the last three years with him in office. But we need a leader bigger than the one I saw onsreen last night addressing Congress and then heading home to the watch the NFL -- someone bigger than television to focus us on the crisis we refuse to face.


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