June 6, 2009

Obama's not really a great orator

That's right, I said it. President Obama has been praised roundly by liberals, conservatives, the media (sorry, that was unnecessary) for his ability to ignite an audience and connect with them through his ability to speak with supposed eloquence and to mesmerize an audience. Being a conservative and naturally inquisitive to boot, I would look at his speeches and very often ask myself 'where are these supposed facts coming from'. I never got past the details to listen to the cadence and tone of his speech to see where that inspiration came from.

If that sounds backwards, it's because it is. The inspiration should be coming from the meaning of the words, not the way in which they are said. That's not to say lofty goals and grand visions are unimportant. Ronald Reagan was able to move me with his speeches in a way Obama cannot. Of course I'm not a liberal so that might not be a fair comparison. So let me give you a fair comparison. Jesse Jackson.

Here's The One:

And here's Jesse Jackson an excerpt from his "Keep hope alive" speech to the Democrat National Convention in 1988.

It's a better oratory, and it has actual ideas in it. Jesse Jackson could emote reading Green Eggs and Ham .

So there's a liberal to liberal, African American to African American comparison. It's fair by any standard. Agree or disagree with their ideas, but compare their speaking ability. There is no comparison as to who the better speaker is - for me at least.

But Jesse Jackson was never really a front running contender for the nomination. It could be argued that the time was not right. But wasn't 2008 supposed to be Clinton's year? Obama may have gotten to the front because of his speaking, but it could have also been because he played smart in the early primaries and built a solid game there. He made himself a front runner. Not by speeches, but by strategy. The deification came later.

Back to the comparison of Obama and Jackson. It's looking more and more to me like it's a superficiality to say that Obama spoke his way into the Presidency. Jesse Jackson should have been able to do the same by that logic, but he didn't.

And it's because this comparison is meaningful that for me it raises a couple of questions;

-are liberals that inspired by President Obama, or has the bar been lowered to such a point that mediocrity is now considered excellence? The question applies to Presidential candidates, speeches and also to their expectations of how his level of success will be defined. He plays into that last point by constantly pointing out how much of a mess he inherited from Bush. Could he be playing into the other two as well?

-are conservatives really in awe of his speaking ability too, or is it something else? I think it's the latter. We lost 2008. Instead of looking at what we did wrong in 2008 (and back through 2000), it's so much easier to just blame the lost on Obama's oratory skills. He's vapid and ultra-liberal, but man can he speak! That leads to two distinct problems. It doesn't allow for conservatives to address what they did wrong because it moves the focus of the debate. Luckily, the moderates versus conservatives discussion has pushed that dialogue along anyway, and it's natural that it would happen regardless of us giving Obama too much credit. But secondly, the GOP, the proxy for conservatives faces another risk by playing into the glorification of Obama-speak. They risk seeing that as the way to succeed in 2012 and instead of sticking to conservative values, they decide to nominate an empty suit with a big smile and great speeches, instead of what the country really is going to need after four years of Obama - an entire clean-up crew of no-nonsense fiscal conservatives, social conservatives and national defense conservatives.

We can not blindly equate Obama's personal popularity ratings to his speaking abilities, because they are not as strong as everyone claims. Sure, he's a decent speaker, and can inspire many. But other factors have influenced his popularity far more - his race, a naive electorate, the pent up anti-Bush sentiment on the left, Iraq, and the current lack of an effective foil in the GOP (though they tried to make Rush fill that role for the purpose, as Rush put it, as someone to demonize. Ironically the only person it helped was Rush, which in the long run, helps conservatives).

We've seen Obama debate. He's entirely beatable, and he's beatable on speeches too. If we don't stand around staring at the sun, he'll be beaten in 2012.

1 comment:

  1. I hear the same claims being made about Obama as well. It boggles the mind to see so many people taken in by this man.
    I think history has shown that truly great orators are individuals who can unite a people or society in a cause, but not just by their words, but by their actions and leadership.
    On the other hand, sometimes society is clamoring so desperately for a change that they will jump on the bandwagon of even the most mediocre of leaders just to have something different.
    Obama is a mediocre politician who happened to be in the right place at the right time to gain the presidency of the United States. It has nothing to do with his leadership abilities. The man took advantage of the current wave of liberal hysteria and criticism, played the campaign game well and made promises he cannot keep.
    Obviously, now that he is President, he is realizing how difficult it is to keep his campaign promises. Promises made that gave the impression that he is a great orator.
    You don't have to be a skilled communicator to be thought of as a great orator. All you really need to do is give the people what they want, or think they want, and you're as good as gold.


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