Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Words and Statesmanship

One of the mounting criticisms of Senator Barack Obama is that he is full of nice sounding words and inspirational and erudite speeches, but that he lacks substance. The merit of that argument is weak at best, but it overlooks the significance of his words. The argument overlooks the fact that the spoken word of a leader is part of their representation of the people. What Obama’s critics fail to see is that one of the principal pillars of statesmanship is the ability to demonstrate intellect, insight and class – in the form of manners and sense of occasion - in the spoken word. These critiques of Obama are distinctly American. They are reflective of the degree to which manners, refinement and a sense of what is appropriate have degenerated in American society. The popular conception of Americans as crass and crude people is confirmed in our criticism of Obama’s ability to communicate tastefully, thoughtfully, correctly and effectively.

The enormity of the difference between Obama the statesman and all others was highlighted again today. In response to Fidel Castro’s yielding power in Cuba, Mike Huckabee said that,

Until Fidel Castro is dead, there can be no significant movement towards reform in Cuba. Raul Castro has proven that he’s as much a tyrant and dictator as his brother Fidel.

That language is crass and unbecoming of a candidate for the presidency of a nation. There are innumerable ways to convey the same sentiment with language that is worthy of a head of state. Huckabee’s statement exemplifies the demeanor of President Bush and the decline of American class. Referring to the terrorists in the aftermath of September 11th, President Bush said that, “we’ll smoke ‘em out” and that, “we want ‘em dead or alive.” By contrast, the language of the statesman Tony Blair was that, “their barbarism shall be their shame for all eternity.” One is the language of a local mechanic after a car has been stolen from his shop, the other is the language of a head of state.

The ability to communicate effectively with the masses does not require speaking and behaving like the masses. The president need not be viewed as a common man or woman in order to be able to communicate with common men or women. The ability, as Rudyard Kipling put it - to walk with Kings nor lose the common touch – is indeed an ability. It indicates that they are two separate skills. Being a statesman requires both, in addition to the ability to know when each is appropriate.

Obama represents what has become elusive in the American political landscape. He is a statesman. He stands head and shoulders above the coarse and derisive language of the media and other politicians. Not only is his oratory appealing and effective, it rests on top of a giant intellect which is guided by his real concern for the well being of common people. That concern is the all important link with the common man and woman, not a folksy swagger with street talk. Statesmanship is the bundle of communicative abilities, vision, intellect and human compassion. Obama has them all and his words serve as a window for us to see them.



azaro said...

I could not agree with you more!!

Hill Rat said...

On point as always son!

The comparison between the words of W and Blair is stunning.

You know the old saying: A diplomat is someone who can tell you to go to hell in such a way that you will look forward to the trip.

Obama has diplomacy flowing through his veins.