Thursday, March 20, 2008

Eloquence is leadership

I wrote this post in response to something on Green Mountain Daily, but it occurred to me that I could post it here as well, since I'm pressed for time today.

There are those who would argue that eloquence, by itself, is mere noise. I do not agree.

There are actually few other acts that a leader in a democratic society can perform that are more important than eloquence.

Lincoln, Jefferson, Franklin Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, are all remembered, first and foremost, for their eloquence.

It is eloquence which is used to engage the people in a dialog and, ultimately, to exhort those same people to action, to inspire hope within them, or to help them change the way they see themselves and the world.

This power can be used for good, or ill. Leaving aside the examples of history's demagogues, like Hitler, who used their eloquence for great evil; we can find other, much less dramatic examples, right here at home, to show the damage that eloquence can do.

Ronald Reagan used eloquence to begin pulling down the social safety nets, government regulation of capital, and to destroy the health of the middle class, that FDR's eloquence had helped to shape.

Even more recently, George W. Bush has used what some have called "plain speaking" to propel this country into a needless war.

His words may have been false, but they were, in their own odd way, eloquent. Eloquent enough to move America to support a massive level of action in Iraq. It is hard to make the argument that Bush's words lacked substance...in fact the deaths of thousands of American soldiers and Iraqi civilians testify to just how brutally substantive they were.

I would suppose that test of true eloquence is the affect it has on those who hear it.

I can speak only for myself, but Barack Obama's speech Tuesday made me feel proud. It reminded me that we have mountainous problems in the United States...but it also reminded me that we have been working to solve those problems from the moment we banded together as a nation. It also reminded me that we have come far, very far, from where we started...and, for the first time in a long time, it made me look forward to the task of going further, of building upon what we have inherited, rather than feeling despair at what we are loosing.

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