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But our politicians today don’t. In China this week, Vice President Joe Biden made a fool of himself on precisely this issue (when he wasn’t too busy making a fool of himself for endorsing forced abortion and communism). When an unfortunate student at Sichuan University asked Biden about the importance of public speaking, Biden responded thusly: “Let me order my thoughts here to make this as brief as I can.” He then proceeded to speak for four full minutes, using over 800 words. His longest sentence was almost 70 words and as inarticulate as humanly possible:
“And so language, the ability not only to master the ability to put your ideas into words succinctly on a platform to communicate ideas to your own people, it is even more impressive when you have the capacity to do that and communicate your ideas, especially as future business and political and moral leaders of the world in the language of the people to whom you are speaking.”
No one could accuse this advocate of succinct language of actually being succinct.
The question is: why? Why is it that our greatest leaders have been able to encapsulate in as few words as possible some of the grandest thoughts man has ever considered? Why is it that today’s leaders seem to hem and haw, slithering in serpentine fashion from subject to verb and back again without any sense of grammar or even consistency? Why is it that so many of our politicians, as William McAdoo said of Warren G. Harding, leave “the impression of an army of pompous phrases moving over the landscape in search of an idea; sometimes these meandering words would actually capture a straggling thought and bear it triumphantly a prisoner in their midst, until it died of servitude and overwork”?
Perhaps it is because we are so idea poor. Our best speakers have typically been those with real ideas to promulgate. Lincoln was not merely a great speechwriter, he was a great thinker; so too was Jefferson; so too was Washington; so too was Martin Luther King, Jr. Obama is not a great thinker. He is a technocrat. And technocrats believe, like your third grade teacher, that the longer an essay is, the better it is. The more of a technocratic society we become, the worse the chance that we will ever again have truly great speakers in our midst.
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