The 2008 presidential campaign has witnessed the rise of a whole arsenal of new political weapons, including Internet fundraising and sophisticated microtargeting of voters. For Sen. Barack Obama, however, the most powerful weapon has been one of the oldest.
Not since the days of the whistle-stop tour and the radio addresses that Franklin D. Roosevelt used to hone his message while governor of New York has a presidential candidate been propelled so much by the force of words, according to historians and experts on rhetoric.
Obama’s emergence as the front-runner in the race for the Democratic nomination has become nearly as much a story of his speeches as of the candidate himself. He arrived on the national scene with his address to the 2004 Democratic National Convention, his campaign’s key turning points have nearly all involved speeches, and his supporters are eager for his election-night remarks nearly as much as for the vote totals. [complete article]
Mr. Obama is simply campaigning for office in the same way he says he would operate if he were elected. “We’re not looking for a chief operating officer when we select a president,” he said during a question and answer session at Google headquarters back in December.
“What we’re looking for is somebody who will chart a course and say: Here is where America needs to go — here is how to solve our energy crisis, here’s how we need to revamp our education system — and then gather the talent together and then mobilize that talent to achieve that goal. And to inspire a sense of hope and possibility.”
Like Ronald Reagan did. [complete article]
Editor’s Comment — Language is the thread out of which the human experience is woven. We are not alone because we can speak and understand.
To play down the importance of Obama’s oratory is not only an insult to those who find him inspiring; it also exhibits a stunning blindness to the context. We’re coming to the end of eight years with a president whose communications skills were not simply below average for a president; they were below average, period.
Bush likes to pretend that when he’s giving a press conference, he’s doing it off-the-clock. The hard work of a president happens outside the earshot of those journalists with their pesky questions. But everyone knows this is a charade. Bush tries to make up for his communication deficit with humor and put-downs, but if the president doesn’t embarrass his audience as much as he used to, it’s not because he’s become much more adept; it’s simply that we’ve got used to his clumsiness.
Obama on the other hand, doesn’t merely inspire; he raises the hope that when the president of the United States steps on to the world stage in 2009, he will make Americans proud. He will be capable of being both a president and executive ambassador — never has America more dearly needed one.
As for what makes Obama such a powerful speaker, it seems misleading to me to view this in terms of oratory. It goes beyond rhetoric, cadence, delivery and the technical skills of effective speech-making. It comes, as Obama himself acknowledged when describing his first experience in front of a rally when “I knew that I had them, that the connection had been made.” This ability to connect with his audience — this is what’s driving Obama’s momentum. Those who lack the same ability might want to play down its value but it hardly seems like an optional extra among the assets we would hope to find in a future president.