Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Barack Obama and the Power of Words

I've noted a number of times now that Barack Obama's lofty rhetoric cannot hide his advocacy of policies that would take the country in a radically different direction, on both domestic and foreign issues.

But many on both sides of the political spectrum underestimate the power of words,
according to Stephen Hayes:

These are words that move and uplift, that give hope to the hopeless. These words inspired millions of voters nationwide to join the grand experiment called democracy, casting votes for their candidate, their country, their destiny:

"More than anything else, I want my candidacy to unify our country, to renew the American spirit and sense of purpose. I want to carry our message to every American, regardless of party affiliation, who is a member of this community of shared values . . . For those who have abandoned hope, we'll restore hope and we'll welcome them into a great national crusade to make America great again!"
Whose words are these? Ronald Reagan's in 1980.

As Hayes notes, Democrats dismissed Reagan's lofty statements that year, but he went on to win a landslide election, winning 44 states and 489 electoral votes.

Are Republicans making the same mistake with Obama?

For months now, Hillary Clinton has suggested that Mr. Obama is all rhetoric, no substance. This claim, or some version of it, has been at the center of her campaign since November. One day after losing to him in Wisconsin and Hawaii -- her ninth and tenth consecutive defeats -- she rather incredibly went back to it again. "It's time we moved from good words to good works, from sound bites to sound solutions," she said -- a formulation that could be mistaken for a sound bite.

As she complained about his lack of substance, tens of thousands of people lined up in city after city, sometimes in subfreezing temperatures, for a chance to get a shot of some Mr. Obama hopemongering. Plainly, her critique is not working.

And yet, Republicans are picking it up. In just the past week, conservative commentators have accused Mr. Obama of speaking in "Sesame Street platitudes," of giving speeches that are "almost content free," of "saying nothing." He has been likened to Chance the Gardner, the clueless mope in Jerzy Koscinski's "Being There," whose banal utterances are taken as brilliant by a gullible political class. Others complain that his campaign is "messianic," too self-aggrandizing and too self-referential.

John McCain has joined the fray. In a speech after he won primaries in Washington, D.C., Virginia and Maryland, Mr. McCain said: "To encourage a country with only rhetoric rather than sound and proven ideas that trust in the strength and courage of free people is not a promise of hope. It is a platitude." After Wisconsin, he sharpened the attack, warning that he would expose Mr. Obama's "eloquent but empty call for change."

The assumption behind much of this criticism is that because Mr. Obama gives a good speech he cannot do substance. This is wrong. Mr. Obama has done well in most of the Democratic debates because he has consistently shown himself able to think on his feet. Even on health care, a complicated national issue that should be Mrs. Clinton's strength, Mr. Obama has regularly fought her to a draw by displaying a grasp of the details that rivals hers, and talking about it in ways Americans can understand.
Read the rest.

Hayes speaks so glowingly of Obama's substantive firepower you'd think he too was
totally in the tank!

I kid, of course, and frankly Obama's coming off as one of the greatest campaigners in the history of American presidential elections.

Still, the key question to remember is where will all these lofty calls to inclusion, equity, and equality lead? To an additional $400 billion in federal spending amid a time of steep budget deficits? That doesn't sound Reaganesque.

On foreign policy, when Obama declared the recent success in Iraq as "tactical" improvements in one of America's greatest strategic blunders, where do those words lead? To the abandonnment of America's hard work at overcoming initial failures to achieve what's now looking like one of modern warfare's greatest strategic corrections? Will Americans surrender the blood and treasure of our emerging victory in Iraq to the angry cries of the nihilist wing of the Democratic Party?

Public opinion's not demanding an unconditional retreat. Iraq can and should be a continuing outpost of American forward military leadership. In partnership with a sovereign Iraq, American power will mark the foundation of a political and strategic commitment to Iraq's democratic future, and to the region's long-term stabilty and progress.

So don't underestimate Obama's words,
like these:

Iraq was a diversion from the fight against the terrorists who struck us on 9/11, and incompetent prosecution of the war by America's civilian leaders compounded the strategic blunder of choosing to wage it in the first place. We have now lost over 3,300 American lives, and thousands more suffer wounds both seen and unseen.
Hayes notes that if elected Obama will govern the same way he's campaigned.

That's exactly what worries me.