Philip Maddocks: Erratic, armed Obama wins over critics

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Philip Maddocks

President Obama sought on Sunday to calm jittery Democrats and answer dismissive Republicans following criticism of his nationally televised speech on Dec.6.

Speaking from the same lectern he used for last week’s Oval Office, and dressed in a traditional white judogi with a black belt that only partially concealed a shoulder-holstered Walther PPK/S handgun, Mr. Obama acknowledged the heightened concern of fellow Democrats following an attack by a married couple in San Bernardino, Calif., that appeared to be inspired, but not directed, by members of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

“My colleagues and my critics have made it clear that a more measured, patient, and rational approach to combating terrorism at home and abroad is no longer enough,” Mr. Obama said¸ promising to intensify airstrikes against the Islamic State - also known as ISIS or ISIL - to broaden the effort to capture and kill the group’s leaders, and to take boxing lessons from Sylvester Stallone.

As he sought to inform Americans of the administration’s increasingly sophisticated efforts against the Islamic State in conjunction with a coalition of other nations, the president paused to shadowbox in front of the lectern, delivering a series of crisp combinations he said he had learned from Mr. Stallone the night before.

Mr. Obama briefly cut off his own audio after deftly and abruptly chopping the lectern in front of him in two as he called for tougher screening of travelers who come to the United States without visas, and asked Congress to ban gun sales to people on the government’s no-fly list, and for limits on assault weapons.

But with a new microphone in hand, and newly fortified with a quick sip of a sport drink tossed his way by Mr. Stallone, the president continued on with the most spirited and physical address of his presidency.

Afterwards, Mr. Obama’s Democratic allies in Congress were almost giddy in their praise for the commander in chief’s forceful display of vigor and wanton destruction.

Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, said he was brought to tears by the president’s demolition of the White House lectern.

“When you interrupt the nation with an urgent and unscheduled statement from the Oval Office, or the White House, that’s what I expect to see in that the address a new approach, a new element, an obliterated piece of furniture,” Mr. Schiff said. “It was really moving.”

Democrats say their long frustration with Mr. Obama – and what they have described as an agonizing search for the prizefighter trapped in the body of the law professor – has now ended.

“He was elected because he is cool,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri, “and now he is becoming Rambo, Rocky, and an Expendable before our very eyes.”

“It is something to behold,” Ms. McCaskill added, pointing to the unhinged door to her office, which the president had dislodged after bursting in to get her opinion on the administration’s patient campaign against ISIS that has included the successful bombing of oil tankers in the Middle East, intelligence gathering and the Islamic State’s loss of territory under American military pressure.

Republican leaders and presidential candidates, who have generally panned and mocked Mr. Obama’s efforts to combat terrorists, now seem uncertain of what to make of a president who is taking boxing lessons and target practice in the Rose Garden and routinely reduces wood and brick to rubble.

House Speaker Paul Ryan said it was “disappointing” that it had taken the president this long to finally break a lectern. But, the Wisconsin Republican added nervously, any new approach to the crisis was welcome news.

Donald J. Trump, the leading Republican candidate for president, posted on Twitter: “I have seen enough. Open up the borders - FAST!”

Sen. John McCain, Republican of Arizona, said Mr. Obama “is offering an approach I can get behind, a direct, dynamic and volatile strategy.”

Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida and a Republican presidential candidate, said: “While I do not approve of the judogi he wore, I do agree with the president’s approach. It should not be business as usual.”

Senate Democrats, who have long suffered the image of being weak on national security, are scrambling this week to line up boxing lessons with Mr. Stallone and learn to split lecterns with a single blow.

“We will continue to force the debate,” said Rep. Steve Israel, Democrat of New York, his bandaged right hand resting on the splintered edge of his desk. “But sometimes actions speak louder than words.”

Philip Maddocks writes a weekly satirical column. He can be reached at pmaddocks@wickedlocal.com.