"More than once, the adjective that has been deployed to describe Obama's oratorical skill is 'Ciceronian'. Cicero, the outstanding Roman politician of the late republic, was certainly the greatest orator of his time, and one of the greatest in history." (The new Cicero, Charlotte Higgins, The Guardian, 26/11/08)
Of course, Charlotte Higgins couldn't possibly have been familiar at the time she wrote that with the new Cicero's performance at a certain town hall meeting in Tampa, Florida in 2010, since available for all to see on You Tube.
If she had, however, her description of Obama as 'the new Cicero' would've been more an exercise in irony.
Part of the problem was that at that meeting a young woman asked the kind of question that invariably leaves opportunistic Western politicians, particularly of the liberal persuasion, squirming and tongue-tied. And that, as you'll see, includes Charlotte's 'new Cicero'.
It wasn't so much the way the young South Florida university student framed her question as the subject itself that had Obama floundering. That subject was, of course, Palestine, the issue that not only sorts those with a spine from those without, but has the power to drastically interfere with the latter's smooth delivery of speech, particularly if they're masquerading as vertebrates. And that even among the most 'Ciceronian' of them.
The ensuing speech impediment arises out of the cognitive dissonance created by the speaker's desperate groping for the kind of Zionist cliches and talking points necessary to keep the wolves of the Israel lobby at bay clashing with his natural, but politically fatal, desire to say what he really thinks.
Of course, not only is the speaker's performance utterly shambolic, but it's blatantly obvious to those in the audience with half a brain that the bugger's faking it:
Young Woman: Hello, Mr President. My name is Laila ___ [unclear]. I'm a student at the University of South Florida (cheers)...
Obama: Thanks, Laila. (More cheering) Hello, hello, we can all get along here. Tampa, behave yourselves.
YW: First of all, I'd like to say I did work on your campaign. It's great what you did for the community because you involved us as youth to understand the grass roots movement and what impact it can make.
Obama: Thank you.
YW: My question is: last night in your State of the Union address you spoke of America's support for human rights. Then why have we not condemned Israel and Egypt's human rights violations against the occupied Palestinian people (uproar- Laila raises her voice) and yet we continue to support them financially with billions of dollars coming from our tax dollars? (uproar)
Obama: All right everybody. Gotta be courteous, everybody, answering the question. The errr... let me just talk about the Middle East generally... Look (head down in thought, restlessly pacing back and forth)... (he emits sound of frog, poleaxed in mid-croak) ohh... everybody come on, hold on one second. I gotta answer my question (he points to someone in the audience, standup comedian style) first, sir, OK... What, you got some beads on? Are those New Orleans beads? OK (rumbling sound in audience; he raises arm) look, look, look... Um... the Middle East is obviously an issue that has plagued the region... for... centuries... ah... and it's an issue that elicits a lot of passions as you heard... errr... Here's my view.
Israel is one of our strongest allies. It has (applause) lemme just, let me play this out... ah... it is... a vibrant democracy. It shares links with us in all sorts of ways... errr... it... it is critical for us and I will never waver from ensuring Israel's security and helping themselves in what is a very hostile region (applause) so I... so I make no apologies for that...
What is also true... is that the plight of the Palestinians is something that we have to pay attention to... because i...it it is not good for our security and it is not good for Israel's security if you've got millions of individuals who feel hopeless, who don't have an opportunity to... get an education... or get a job or what have you.
Now the history of there is long and I don't have time to go through the grievances on both sides in the issue. What I have said and what we did from the beginning when I came into office is to say we are seeking a two-state solution in which Israel and the Palestinians can live side-by-side in peace and security. In order to do that both sides are gonna have to make concessions (light applause). As a... first step the Palestinians have to unequivocally renounce violence and recognise Israel (light applause) and Israel has to acknowledge legitimate grievances and interests of the Palestinians.
We know what a solution could look like in the region but here's the problem we're confronting right now... is that both Israel and with the Palestinian territories the politics are difficult.. They're divided, The Israeli government... ah... came in based on the support of a lot of folks who don't want to make a lot of concessions. I think Prime Minister Netanyahu is actually making some effort to try to... ah... move a little bit further than his coalition wants him to go. On the other hand, President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, who I think genuinely wants peace, has to deal with Hamas, an organisation that has not recognised Israel and has not disavowed violence, and so we are working to try to strengthen the ability of both parties to sit down across the table and to begin serious negotiations, and I think that it's important when we're talking about this issue to make sure that we don't just knee-jerk, use language... errr... that is inflammatory or in some fashion discourages the possibility of negotiations. We've got to see that both the Palestinian people and Israel have legitimate aspirations and they can best be served if the US is helping them understand each other as opposed to demonising each other, OK?