Words mean things.
My father taught me that as we listened to political speeches.
He was chairman of the speech department at UCSB and a PHD in rhetoric. He used to play speeches for his senior classes and I was his young son watching him prepare for lecture.
He would pace the floor during a Nixon speech and shout, "Did you hear what he just said?"
I would repeat what was said.
"No no, did you hear what he meant by what he said?"
He explained that in the arena of politics and professional speech with writers and candidates on the national stage - words are chosen carefully and people say exactly what they mean.
I've listened to Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John McCain and the other candidates for office. And I can tell you that Gary Wills should already be working on a new book because Barack Obama represents fundamental change to political speech in America. He has also exposed the shortcomings of political reporters who hear what's being said but don't have much to say about what it means.
Obama is the Tiger Woods of political oration and as of right now he is playing in a league of his own.
In a speech given Tuesday night in Houston, Barack Obama repeatedly crushed his opponents and specifically answered Hillary Clinton while keeping himself elevated above the mudfight that the far right, the Clintons and the media have been managing for 16 years.
Here are three examples of what Obama said on Tuesday night:
"As wonderful as this gathering is, as exciting as these enormous crowds and this enormous energy may be, what we're trying to do here is not easy, and it will not happen overnight.
It is going to take more than big rallies. It's going to require more than rousing speeches. It will also require more than policy papers and positions and Web sites. It is going to require something more, because the problem that we face in America today is not the lack of good ideas. It's that Washington has become a place where good ideas go to die...
... because lobbyists crush them with their money and their influence, because politicians spend too much time trying to score political points and not enough time trying to bridge their differences so we can get something done.
The problem is that we haven't had leaders who can inspire the American people to rally behind a common purpose and a higher purpose. And this is what we need to change today..."
"...I'm not running because of some long-held ambition. I know that some people have been looking through my kindergarten papers, but that's not why I decided to run.
I'm not running because I think it's somehow owed to me. I'm running because of what Dr. King called the fierce urgency of now, the fierce urgency of now.
If you're ready for change, we can assure that every child in America has the best education this country has to offer...
... from the day that child is born to the day that child graduates from college. The problem is not the lack of plans, the lack of good ideas. The problem is a lack of political will, a lack of urgency.
The public instinctively understand this man.
By contrast, the speech of Hillary Clinton is barely any different in tone deafness and flat delivery from John Kerry. Further, Obama isn't arguing ideology against Hillary Clinton or John McCain. He is arguing that he is a better person because he has a higher purpose. That is a breathtaking statement! And it wasn't focus group tested either. This guy just knows who he is.
Here's my critique of the three examples from Tuesday:
1) Obama catches Hillary's "just words" critique and turns her into a frumpy policy wonk who doesn't inspire the people and is a captive of special interest money.(Ohhh - -SNAP!)
2)Obama captures the public perception of Hillary and a sense that she feels she is owed something. Then mocks the opposition research that involved his Kindergarten papers. It's a slap and a dismissal followed by a quote from Dr. King that piles dirt all over the sinking Clinton campaign.
3)This is Obama asking Hillary if she still thinks she is the smartest kid in class.
The speech is a carefully constructed demonstration of his power.
Hey, I know rhetorical analysis is pretty geeky stuff. So what. We're being taught by a master orator that words MEAN things. After 8 years of Mr. Bush, I'm positively giddy.
(The entire transcript of The 2.19.08 speech by Senator Obama can be found at The Turner Report
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