Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Speak Loudly & Carry Nothing

Walter Russell Mead on Our Rhetorical President's Unserious Speeches:

Second-rate orators use flowery language to disguise the conventionality or insincerity of their sentiments, to disguise their true motives, or—and this was the biggest problem for the White House on Syria—to substitute rhetoric for action. President Obama's best speeches, like his Nobel Prize address, are strong because they express his true purpose. As he spoke of the tragic necessity of war, he was planning a surge in Afghanistan and unleashing a drone campaign. The speech was a serious reflection on important actions.

You cannot be a great speaker unless you are a great doer. If Martin Luther King Jr. had not led the civil-rights movement to success and ultimately laid down his life for it, his speeches would be little studied. If Churchill had surrendered to Hitler, nobody would care about his defiant addresses.

At worst, as in Mr. Obama's Cairo speech, the contrast between exalted rhetoric and mingy deeds undermines both speech and speechmaker. But even at their best, the president's speeches often demonstrate an intellectual mastery of the subject but lack a true aim. To change that, he would do well to quit thinking of speechmaking as an act in itself and begin to think of it as the verbal expression of an action already under way. Otherwise, Mr. Obama's speeches will continue to resemble the fireworks that lit up America's skies last week: briefly dazzling the crowds, then fading quickly as the dark returns.

Words alone not supported by actions are in the end meaningless. The only surprise is that it's taken people so long to realize how hollow and empty President Obama's rhetoric truly is.