Election 2008

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Can Obama Find the Right Words?

January 21, 2008 10:40 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Obama’s stump speeches have been judged inspirational; but not by everyone. To some the best oratory the primaries offer merely confirms that the days of great political speeches are over.

30-Second Summary

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A reporter for the U.K. Daily Telegraph, Andrew Grimson, attended an Obama campaign rally in Jersey City and wrote that the Illinois senator “is a speaker of genius.” Grimson is far from alone in holding that opinion.

But there are objections to the Obama style as well. One was touched on when Sen. Hillary Clinton borrowed the line "you campaign in poetry; you govern in prose." Is there any substance behind Obama’s fine words?

Then again, to some commentators even the fine words appear absent. It was Obama who, after his Iowa victory, put the word “change” on every candidate’s lips. Timothy Noah of the Los Angeles Times sounded a note heard all over the country when he wrote that “the mere promise of some undefined ‘change’ seems a weak basis for choosing the most powerful officeholder in the land.”

Perhaps, if the speeches are limp, the fault is with the people who report on them. According to media analyst group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, “Behaving so much like drama critics who must keep evaluating on-stage performances, most political journalists have become accustomed to looking for—and, in fact, largely concocting—simplistic storylines.”

At the other end of the telescope, today’s public is wary of high-flown rhetoric. "Don't let anybody call you an orator," writes Peter Applebome in The New York Times. Quoting Mario M. Cuomo, Applebome writes, "No dictionary would define that word without some suggestion of pomposity."

In the end, winning voters’ hearts with elegant phrases could prove a curse. “After all, if you succeed in raising hopes with the promise of change you will pay a big price if you can’t deliver it,” concludes Applebome.

Headline Links: ‘The Road to the White House: Can Anyone in 2008 Leave Us Speechless’

Historical Context: Speeches that have moved America

Background: Words from the campaign trail

Opinion & Analysis: Oratorical Obama

Related Links: The risk of rhetoric today

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