In democratic societies, a leader's language always matters. But when it comes to rhetoric, sometimes less is more. We're in one of those times.
In our social media world, isn't pith the only path to success? I'm as nostalgic for eloquence as any former English major, but if it needs more than one sentence, leaders (and would-be leaders) already seem to know that natural selection has doomed it.
Certainly made me glad I paid.
My nomination for best presidential speech to Congress (thus excluding Lincoln's trifecta) is LBJ's "We Shall Overcome" speech on the Voting Rights Act. Richard Goodwin wrote it under an insane deadline, and apparently there was not much time for LBJ to revise it, but it sounds like LBJ. A little poetic in parts, but rarely stilted or too poetic (IMO); mostly plain-spoken and direct. Unlike Lincoln's First, it's not lawyerly, but preacherly, like Lincoln's Second. Personally, I love the two references to "your President," one when your President requests every American to rally to the cause of vindicating freedom, the other when he says "there have been many pressures on your President."
Like most great speeches, it didn't have a direct impact on the desired result - the passage of the VRA, just as the Berlin wall would've fallen even if Reagan had never demanded it and FDR's agenda was no more or less like to pass as a result of "Four Freedoms" State of the Union. But like all great speeches it speaks to our better angels and tells us what America should be.
Jim - I'd proffer "the fify-first state" as up there with the best...
A great start, Jim, and I appreciated your explanation of the background to the Biden plagiarism in 1987. Overseas at the time, I later learned of it and thought it more convoluted or that he had resisted a mea culpa that does not seem to have been the case.
On the other hand, I was a bit surprised you did not refer to JFK's trio of "asks" at the end of his inaugural of which the first is clearly a case of lofty rhetoric with a durable impact. I was too young in early 1961 to feel the effect in the sense that Obama's DNC speech was provocative as well as captivating - whether realistic or not - but I have observed many of your cohort who admit that President Kennedy's first entreaty clarified their doubts and moved them to action.
Thanks for this new endeavor that is a pleasure to endorse...
Perhaps you can remind us about Jimmy Carter’s “the moral equivalent of war” (meow. :-)
Lovely, thanks Jim
Even in the loftiest realms of literature, examples of clear, plain-spoken, language have profound effect.
What is the central theme of King Lear? Lear states it himself:
“Who is it that can tell me who I am?”
Or later, as begins to find his way again:
"I am a very foolish fond old man,
Fourscore and upward, not an hour more nor less;
And, to deal plainly,
I fear I am not in my perfect mind."
The sad news that Nanci Griffith, poet and musician, had died recently reminded me of the opening lines of her signature song, “Love at the Five-and-Dime”:
"Rita was sixteen years
Hazel eyes and chestnut hair
She made the Woolworth counter shine"
A fully formed character created with 15 simple words. And what follows is a complete tale of two lives distilled in some 200 plain-spoken words (not counting repetition of the chorus).
Jim -- I always thought that Truman's most memorable comment were his words to reporters after taking office: "When they told me yesterday what had happened, I felt like the moon, the stars and all the planets had fallen on me."