Pages: 1 2
After President Bush’s supposed rhetorical stumblings, bumblings, and mumblings, President Barack Obama was supposed to provide us with a dose of good old-fashioned verbal class and polish. When he opened his mouth, pearls of mellifluous wisdom were supposed to come tumbling out, astonishing us with their beauty and clarity. During the 2008 campaign, Professor Ronald Greene of the University of Minnesota gushed, “He’s doing long speeches and he’s demanding our attention. He will truly be a president who understands the power of oratory … Some call it cool or aloof, but he gives off a sense of standing. It’s very presidential.” Professor Mark Liberman of the University of Pennsylvania seconded the motion, praising Obama’s lyrical use of the phrase “yes we can.” “There’s a certain amount of repetition,” Liberman explained, “the ‘Yes We Can’ theme – that allows this kind of weaving of vocal lines … It was written like a song, but not performed like a song.”
And yet we are not inspired. Those lovely teleprompter cadences that were supposed to turn the world on its ear have not done so. Instead, we are all tired of President Obama’s familiar speech patterns and drowsy intonation, punctuated by a rapid change in pacing at the ends of sentences: “Hey … diddle … diddle … the cat — and the fiddle … the cow … jumpedoverthemoon!” More troubling, he uses phrases that spell out in crystalline purity his verbal incompetence. “Let me be clear” – implying that everything else he has said has not been clear. “Make no mistake” – implying that without his further clarification, we would have made a mistake.
More than even Obama’s odd verbal tics, the length of his speeches is purely soporific. His most recent State of the Union Address ran nearly 7,000 words. That’s longer than the entire Constitution of the United States — by nearly 2,500 words. It’s more than four times the length of JFK’s First Inaugural Address – the famous “ask not what your country can do for you” speech.
Obama’s bizarre speech to Congress on health care in 2009 ran over 5,400 words. That’s longer than President Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address, Second Inaugural Address, and the Gettysburg Address combined.
Now, length is sometimes worthwhile. President George Washington’s Farewell Address ran just over 6,000 words; then-candidate Lincoln’s Cooper Union speech ran almost 8,000 words. But such length is a rarity in American politics, as it should be. As humorist Tom Lehrer put it, “If a person feels he can’t communicate, the least he can do is shut up about it.
Pages: 1 2