Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Barack Obama: The Great Orator

This article was originally posted at on March 30th, 2008

Throughout history men have given memorable speeches. Great orators have often times been able to whip up the emotions of their populace and mobilize them to work toward one agenda or another. Their speeches come down to us through the ages and small bits are oft times quoted as pearls of wisdom. These speeches have been made by well meaning people, but history has not always remembered such men in good light. We in America are most familiar with our own orators, men such as Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan to name a few. These men are hailed as heroic figures of their time and strong leaders of their people, but men like Mussolini and Hitler were also great orators and strong leaders. They, too, were able to give rousing speeches, speeches that mobilized their people into the teeth of disaster.

What many in society might not see is that a speech conveys so much more than just the words of a man. Underlying ideologies are often expressed. Certain ideologies can be masked by pretty words in such a way that the people listening don´t even understand that they´re being expressed. Emotional catch phrases and stories can be used to steer the listener into supporting something he might not otherwise support. In this way, the most innocuous or benevolent seeming ideas can be put forth to advance an agenda that might not be so beneficial to the common man. Sometimes this effect will be used by the orator purposely, but sometimes even the most well meaning of men may not have thought through the implications of his speech and the unintended consequences of his agenda.

Barack Obama is gaining a reputation as a great orator. Not so long ago he gave a speech on racism in America. It seems sad to me that the issue of racism enters the national debate during the presidential campaign. It seems to me there are so many issues that are far more important than the issue of racism. Our constitution is under attack and the Bill of Rights has been more or less shredded. We are engaged in a never ending war on terror. We have military personnel in just about every country in the world. The dollar is tanking. Inflation is rampant. I don´t care what they say the numbers are, I know I´m paying much more for everything. There is much uncertainty in the economy. These are the issues that should be being discussed. Anything else is just a distraction.

So Mr. Obama gives a speech on racism. There were some pundits who felt it was a speech of the ages, one to put him over the top. One might wonder what the purpose of this speech was. The obvious answer is that he was trying to diffuse some controversial statements his minister made while preaching from the pulpit. He was trying to define his own views on race and explain them to the electorate. But the bottom line to all of this hullabaloo is votes. The main purpose of this speech was damage control to gain and maintain votes.

Let´s examine what Mr. Obama said. First of all, he started his speech by claiming America was an experiment in democracy. It should be abundantly clear by this time that the United States of America was set up as a republic. I know many journalists have already addressed this and I hate to keep harping on it, but there is a significant difference between a democracy and a republic and our politicians should know this. It´s rather distressing for our politicians to keep referring to this country as a democracy when a democracy can be best summed up as two wolves and a sheep voting on what´s for dinner. One of the purposes for setting up a republic is to protect individuals or minorities from the tyranny of the majority. This is particularly true of the United States´ republic as a bill of rights was included to restrain the powers of government and keep the citizenry safe from the terror of tyrannical rule. Some might think this difference minor, but a democracy can easily mutate into an authoritarian government if the majority can be convinced to vote such powers to one person.

Mr. Obama then goes on to speak of the evils of slavery and the greatness and uniqueness of this nation. He uses powerful words and attempts to elicit strong emotions in the listener. His statements are designed to make him appear to be the authority and to make the listener believe he speaks unquestionable truths. He mentions unity and purpose. These terms give us a glimpse into his collectivist mentality. He speaks of the problems facing our country and how we must all join together to solve them, yet he never really explains how this can be accomplished. He then delves into his personal experiences with Rev. Wright, his church, and other personal areas of his life. It was a good speech, very poignant and moving. It does not, however, explain how he would carry out his constitutional duties as president. For a speech that begins by quoting from and citing the founding documents, one would think this would be a component of his speech. Mr. Obama does, after all, have to swear an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America. Mr. Obama´s speech would have been an excellent speech had he been addressing a group of activists protesting some perceived injustice, but I´m not so sure it was appropriate for presidential politics.

Racism is an ugly word, and an ugly concept. It causes emotional, gut level reactions ranging from aggressive hatred in some to defensive postures in others. The idea that one group of people is superior to another is repugnant to most people, or at least it should be, no matter their color. It is another example of "group think" that many people are prone to, another example of a kind of collectivism. It seems to me that collectivism is pervading modern societies and doing so with such stealth that many have hardly noticed. By clumping people into groups individual responsibility is minimized. Freedom and constitutional government is what our federal office holders should be concerned with and yet these concepts were hardly mentioned in Mr. Obama´s speech. The issue here is not so much racism or how to combat it, the issue is our right to express our thoughts no matter how ugly or contemptuous. Rev. Wright had every right to say whatever he wanted from his pulpit. At the same time, anyone listening to him had every right to get up and leave if they found what he said in any way disturbing. Unfortunately racism will likely always exist until all individuals, seven billion of us, realize that we are all alike in our human form and yet we are all unique due to our circumstances. Among the things that make us alike is the ability to think as we see fit, for our thoughts are formed due to all aspects of our human experience, internal and external, genetically and through knowledge acquired.

Mr. Obama used the racism issue to highlight the many problems we face as a nation. He didn´t clearly explain how these problems would be handled if he were president. He did give us a nice pep talk about unity and how we as a nation are hungry for it. These are not the answers we seek if we the people want change. The problems he cites in his speech, education, health care, the economy, etc., are indeed problems we all face. Yet what are the solutions he offers? These problems will not go away with pretty words. No doubt he envisions government solutions to such problems, bigger government with more regulations and restrictions. This is not change, but more of the same policies that got us into this mess. Government is the problem. It needs to be scaled back.

A good leader leads by example. He speaks from a position of love, strength, conviction and principle, not from a position of hatred, weakness, doubt and deception. He will do more than point out the problems we face, he will offer real, concrete solutions to those problems, solutions that have yet to be tried or implemented. Mr. Obama did not do this in his last speech, electing instead to tell nice little stories about his life and his campaign so far and to try to explain where he and others in his life were coming from. I have no doubt that Mr. Obama understands the problems we all face and has a profound awareness of how we got here, but I still don´t know if he has a viable course of action to return our nation back to the bastion of freedom and prosperity it once was.