Posts Tagged ‘Kennedy-esque’

What Obama’s Speeches And The Emperor’s New Clothes Have In Common

January 28, 2010

Like the emperor’s new clothes, Obama’s speeches count on people determining that if they don’t see the wisdom coming out of Obama’s mouth, they’re fools.

When, of course, it’s only fools who think that way to begin with.

By HILLEL ITALIE, AP National Writer Hillel Italie, Ap National Writer Tue Jan 26, 12:02 am ET

NEW YORK – As a supporter of Barack Obama for president, former JFK speechwriter Ted Sorensen welcomed the young Democrat as a winning, Kennedy-esque orator who didn’t bore the public with “five-point programs” and lectures more fit for campuses than for campaigns.

But as Obama prepares to deliver his first State of the Union address, Sorensen wonders if the president hasn’t become more like the politicians he supposedly displaced.

“He is still a very eloquent, articulate speaker,” Sorensen says. “He is clearly well informed on all matters of public policy, sometimes, frankly, a little too well informed. And as a result, some of the speeches are too complicated for typical citizens and very clear to university faculties and big newspaper editorial boards.”

Authors, editors and speechwriters interviewed by The Associated Press agree that Obama is indeed a gifted and effective speechmaker, able to set a new tone with the Middle East in his Cairo speech or to turn public opinion, at least temporarily, in favor of changing the health care system after his address to Congress.

But even admirers have a hard time remembering what he actually says.

Ted Widmer, who edited an anthology of political speeches for the Library of America, praised Obama for his “masterful” style, but could not cite a specific line the president said. Similar observations were made by Jeff Shesol, David Frum and Harry C. McPherson, who wrote speeches for presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Lyndon Johnson, respectively.

“The speech he made in Cairo — I remember the intelligence, the breadth and the reasonableness,” McPherson says. “But I can’t tell you, and this is one of the shortcomings of the kind of speech he makes — I can’t quote anything, or cite anything, off the top of my head.”

“His speeches can go for pages without applause lines, making comprehensive arguments about particular issues,” said White House spokesman Bill Burton. “And though people may not remember particular lines or phrases from every speech, when he is done speaking, people always get a sense of who the president is and exactly where he is coming from.”

A distinctive phrase can define, or make history, like Franklin Roosevelt’s calling Dec. 7, 1941, “a date that will live in infamy” because of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, or President Ford’s declaration, upon taking office after Richard Nixon had resigned, that “our long national nightmare” was over. President Kennedy’s inaugural call to “ask what you can do for your country” helped inspire an era of public service, while President Reagan’s demand that Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev “tear down that wall,” the Berlin Wall, was a climactic moment of the Cold War.

“I think there are memorable lines in certain speeches (by Obama),” says presidential speechwriter Adam Frankel, who started writing for Obama when he was a candidate. “But what makes him unique as a speaker is not necessarily a single line but the overall story he tells and the seriousness with which he tells it and the trust he puts in people to understand a complicated argument.”

Frum and others warn that a speechwriter can be so eager to come up with a memorable quote that the overall text suffers. Obama’s preference for sustain explanation over snappy summaries is a good thing, Widmer says, because it means he’s treating the public as adults.

“Sound bites help people to remember a speech and think about the larger message of a speech, but they become a distortion if you only remember the fragment,” Widmer says. “You can end up with a situation like the presidential primaries where you’ve got eight people in an Iowa cornfield, all trying to have a striking single sentence in the middle of a speech.”

Geoffrey O’Brien, editor of the next edition of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, says that so far he has 12 Obama citings planned, but just one since he became president (though he says that could well change).

The passage he wants to include from Obama’s presidency comes from his inaugural speech, when Obama called the United States “a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers.” He could not immediately cite any other lines from Obama’s presidential speeches.

“Obama is very strong at sort of coolly laying out issues, which may not be memorable, but is effective,” O’Brien says. “When he was running for president, he had to draw on a more impassioned style. He was addressing huge crowds of people.”

O’Brien says that when he talks about Obama with young people the phrase they remember is “Yes, We Can,” his campaign slogan.

Fred R. Shapiro, who edits the Yale Book of Quotations, mentioned a few phrases from Obama’s inaugural speech that could make the next edition some years from now. He cites Obama’s insistence that “We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals” in the fight against terrorism, and that “a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served in a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.”

But Shapiro doesn’t think that any of his presidential statements have caught on widely with the public, certainly not at the level of then-candidate Obama’s private observation in 2008 that small-town Americans “cling to guns or religion.”

“The lines I mentioned from his inauguration have not become very famous,” Shapiro says. “And if they’re in the next Yale Book of Quotations, it will be more because they were borderline choices than because they were overwhelmingly clear-cut candidates.”

No presidential speech since President Kennedy’s inaugural, which has 11 mentions in the most recent Yale book, has been so quoted. A Kennedy-Sorensen trademark is chiasmus — what speechwriters call “reversible raincoats,” in which the second half of the phrase is a variation on the first half, such as “Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.”

The stature of Kennedy’s speech is one reason it hasn’t been matched. Shesol recalls an agreement among Clinton speechwriters that reversible raincoats should be avoided because Kennedy and Sorensen had so perfected them.

“I think it’s very important for people to remember the words. Words have power. A successful speech will resonate and phrases will provide a kind of power in the near term and the longer term,” Shesol said. “But, ultimately, it’s important to any president to be able to make continually clear who he is, what he believes and where he wants to go.”

Thurston Clarke, author of “Ask Not,” a well-regarded book on President Kennedy’s inaugural speech, wonders if Obama isn’t still reacting to criticism during the 2008 campaign that he was too good with words. His main opponent, Hillary Rodham Clinton, cited a quote from former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo that “You campaign in poetry, but you govern in prose.” Robert F. Kennedy Jr., son of the late attorney general and New York senator, worried about the limits of “poetry or lofty language.”

“I think he’s scared of appearing too polished,” Clarke said. “I think it scared him from giving a great inaugural address and I think that was a huge mistake because no president gets an audience again like he does for his inaugural address.”

Allegations that Obama is holding back are “not true,” said Burton, the White House spokesman. “That speech (Kennedy’s) was 50 years ago, only underscoring the point that these iconic moments are so few and far between. But knowing a couple lines is not the best measure of a speech and certainly not of the effectiveness of a president.”

And thus the uber-leftist academicians circle the wagons to surround Obama as his apologists.  We saw the same mindset for FDR: FDR’s policies were a complete disaster; even his own treasury secretary said so:

“We have tried spending money. We are spending more than we have ever spent before and it does not work. And I have just one interest, and if I am wrong… somebody else can have my job. I want to see this country prosperous. I want to see people get a job. I want to see people get enough to eat. We have never made good on our promises… I say after eight years of this Administration we have just as much unemployment as when we started… And an enormous debt to boot!” – Henry Morganthau, FDR’s Treasury Secretary, May 1939

In April 1939, unemployment was still 20.7%

You start seeing fools early in this article. For example, JFK speechwriter Ted Sorensen doesn’t seem to understand that other people write Obama’s speeches.  And other people do the focus groups to to inform other people in the policy department to determine what those other people should write in those speeches.  Obama delivers other peoples’ words well; he’s helpless when he depends upon his own “oration.”

If you have any doubts about this, watch our “smooth, polished, Kennedy-esque orator,” watch him blathering on like the village idiot without his teleprompter screens and ask yourself if JFK ever did anything like this:

The opening three paragraphs from this AP article assume the liberal thesis that if the man who has bored us with more speeches and appearances only explained himself, the country would be thrilled with his uber-lib big-government policies.

My very favorite line from the article is Sorenson’s thesis: that “some of the speeches are too complicated for typical citizens and very clear to university faculties and big newspaper editorial boards.”  Which is the emperor’s new clothes, part deux.  If you were really really smart like we liberal elites, you’d understand the masterful wisdom that is The Obama.

Obama’s speechwriter (hey, Obama doesn’t write his own speeches after all, Ted!) Adam Frankel talks about “the trust [Obama] puts in people to understand a complicated argument.”  So if you don’t think what Obama’s saying makes any sense, you can know in advance that it’s because you’re ignorant.

When Obama speaks, you’d better not see the emperor’s underwear, or you’re stupid.

Then this group of Chris Matthews-clones who said they got shivers up their legs when Obama spoke admit that, “even admirers have a hard time remembering what he actually says.”

I’ll tell you a little secret: it’s because Obama takes way too long to say nothing.  Obama is all “masterful style” and absolutely no substance.  And these postmodernists who themselves believe in nothing beyond the most surface of appearances end up falling for nothing every single time as long as that nothing is eloquently painted with polished rhetoric.

In The Emperor’s New Clothes, the overwhelming majority are suckered by a couple of opportunists to willingly participate in a shocking display of collective ignorance despite what should be obvious to any with common sense.

There is nothing new under the sun,” wise Solomon once said.  And so we are right back to the vain emperor and his vain illusion that reveals the pretentiousness, pomposity, social hypocrisy, collective denial, and hollow ostentatiousness of our own time.

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