Speaking as a President

I’ve frequently heaped scorn on Obama’s oratorical abilities.  His speeches remind me of the political speeches in old Hollywood movies.  In those days, the movies were careful not to take sides in any obvious way, so they’d have political characters make speeches using orotund phrases that contained high sounding platitudes, but that actually said nothing  at all.  It was very clever double-speak for entertainment purposes.  Very Obama-ish.  I was therefore quite pleased to read the post that William Katz, who blogs at Urgent Agenda, did for Power Line, because it’s a reminder that, given a choice between pretty speeches and actual ability, Americans have historically chosen the latter every time:

Those who’ve read these pieces know that I was a talent coordinator on The Tonight Show. When the staff met with Johnny Carson, in an office overlooking Radio City Music Hall, one thing was constantly drummed into our heads: Substance. Carson, a master of his game, knew that the talent of a guest wasn’t enough. The guest had to have something to say. If the guest ran out of material, or interesting stories, the guest was inducted into our alumni hall of fame. Hollywood is filled with people who thought they could drop in at The Tonight Show, say a couple of witty things, smile for the civilians, and leave. They would in fact leave, never to return.

I thought about that lesson in the days before Super Tuesday, as the huge wave of Obamamania rolled over me. Here, we were told, was a great speaker. As Sinatra might have put it, leave us we should count the ways. He is 1) inspiring, 2) dynamic, 3) articulate, 4) intellectual, and 5) human. He is the Obama, and we will go crazy for him because he is such an orator.

Carson had a line for hype like that: Aren’t we lucky.

Granted, Barack Obama is a terrific speaker. But how important is his oratory, or anyone else’s, in a presidential campaign? Well, the Gallup organization took a poll on this very question in January. This is what they found:

“Even though Americans value having an inspiring president, they give higher priority to a leader who has been tested when asked to choose between two hypothetical candidates as defined by these two dimensions. Fifty-two percent of Americans say they would prefer the 2008 presidential election winner to be ‘a candidate who is a tested leader but who is not that inspiring’ while 43% say it would be better to elect ‘a candidate who is inspiring but who has not been tested as a leader.’”

That’s pretty much in line with the history of the last 75 years.After all, in the 1950s we were madly for Adlai. Like Obama, he was from Illinois, and he too was a great speaker. I remember Adlai Stevenson well. I stood right behind him as he addressed a huge crowd in our high-school gymnasium. Pearls came from his mouth, veritable pearls. But Adlai got buried in two presidential elections by Dwight Eisenhower, whose speaking abilities ranked somewhere between Yogi Berra and a silent movie. Eisenhower, though, was a tested leader.

Then there was Jack Kennedy. Now there was a guy who could command a room. I was in the hall on November 4, 1960, in Chicago, when Kennedy proposed the Peace Corps. There he was, his right hand jutting into space to underline every point. The girls squealed. They jumped at every Jack gesture. But, despite his inspiration quotient, Jack Kennedy lost the women’s vote to Richard Nixon, and barely inched by on election day. If truth be told, he may even have lost on that day before Hollywood accounting was applied to the Chicago vote totals.

Douglas MacArthur? He was one of our finest orators, eloquent and dramatic. He was known almost as much for his style as for his generalship. He could thrill an audience or send a West Point team on to victory. He wanted desperately to be president. He didn’t get to be president. He didn’t even get close.

The point here is this: I looked back as far as the 1930s and concluded that great speaking is vastly overrated as a political weapon. In fact, in presidential politics, the better speaker often loses. Though no spellbinder, Thomas E. Dewey in 1948 was a far better speech maker than Harry Truman. He lost. Hubert Humphrey was actually a distinguished orator, especially on the floor of the United States Senate. In 1968 he lost to the same Dick Nixon whom Kennedy may have beaten. We mentioned poor Adlai, now largely forgotten. Al Gore, again no candidate for Mr. Excitement, was far more articulate than was George W. Bush. He lost in 2000, although the Daily Kos is still holding out.

Treat yourself.  Read the rest here.


On McCain’s apparent front-runner status *UPDATED*

Compared to Romney, I don’t like McCain. Compared to Obama or Hillary, I adore McCain and would happily vote for him — heck, if I were voting in Chicago (home turf for both Obama and Hillary), I’d vote for him twice, and have my ancestors vote for him too. You dance with them whut brung ya’, and it looks as if McCain may be the Republican dance partner in the 2008 Presidential election.

So, if you’re one of those conservatives who who thinks McCain is too liberal (and, compared to your candidate of choice, whoever he is, I’m sure you’re right), or who worries about the Gang of 14 (although reading this may allay some of your concerns), or who hasn’t forgiven him for McCain-Feingold, or who just plain doesn’t like him — get over it! He may not be the perfect Republican candidate, but he’s so much better than either Hillary or Obama that it really doesn’t matter. If you believe in conservative principles and fear the fall-out from Democratic policies, you have what amounts to a moral obligation to get out there in November and vote for him. Do not, I repeat, do not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Also, if it makes you feel better about casting your vote, there are some indications that he is truly a winning candidate. That is, you won’t be compromising your principles with a vote that is ultimately wasted. A Rasmussen poll that the Captain discusses has him beating out both Obama and Hillary if an election were held today. Now, that may change when one of the Dems emerges victorious from the primary process, in which case more voters may coalesce around the winner, but it’s still good news for those who feel that it’s as important for a Democrat to lose as for a Republican to win.

And if you think I’m being exceptionally vindictive in devoutly wishing for a Democratic loss, here’s my defense: While I think we as a nation are a robust enough to fix any economic messes the Democrats may cause, I also think that we have a one shot deal to remain ascendant when it comes to the World War that the Islamists are waging against us. If we have a Democrat in the White House, especially Obama who can’t get out of Iraq fast enough, we’ll have wasted that shot.

(I have to admit I’m not pleased with Michelle Malkin for hinting that she’d rather see Hillary win than help out McCain. Hmmm….)

UPDATEBig Lizards has a very compelling post about McCain’s charisma — an important intangible we often overlook.  I have to say that, when I catch McCain’s speeches on the radio, I enjoy listening, which is not something I can say about any other politician’s speeches, including those of my man Romney.

Is McCain positioning Lieberman as his running mate? *UPDATED*

John McCain and Joe Lieberman have co-authored a short op-ed piece in the WSJ that states, quite simply, that the Surge worked:

After years of mismanagement of the war, many people had grave doubts about whether success in Iraq was possible. In Congress, opposition to the surge from antiwar members was swift and severe. They insisted that Iraq was already “lost,” and that there was nothing left to do but accept our defeat and retreat.

In fact, they could not have been more wrong. And had we heeded their calls for retreat, Iraq today would be a country in chaos: a failed state in the heart of the Middle East, overrun by al Qaeda and Iran.

Instead, conditions in that country have been utterly transformed from those of a year ago, as a consequence of the surge. Whereas, a year ago, al Qaeda in Iraq was entrenched in Anbar province and Baghdad, now the forces of Islamist extremism are facing their single greatest and most humiliating defeat since the loss of Afghanistan in 2001. Thanks to the surge, the Sunni Arabs who once constituted the insurgency’s core of support in Iraq have been empowered to rise up against the suicide bombers and fanatics in their midst — prompting Osama bin Laden to call them “traitors.”

As al Qaeda has been beaten back, violence across the country has dropped dramatically. The number of car bombings, sectarian murders and suicide attacks has been slashed. American casualties have also fallen sharply, decreasing in each of the past four months.

I agree.

The same piece then goes on to applaud Gen’l Petraeus’ stunningly good leadership (Petraeus for President in 2012?) and to ask the logical question: Where do we go from here? Frankly, it’s not a very interesting op-ed piece, since it simply states a whole lot of obvious stuff.

What is interesting is the fact that McCain and Lieberman authored it together, showing that they are pulling in the same harness when it comes to the War. It left me wondering whether this article is a flag that McCain is running up the pole to see if Lieberman would be acceptable as his running mate?

For me, McCain and Lieberman are very much a matched set: They’re both men I admire very much on a personal level. That is, I think they’re good and intelligent human beings. I think both of them have been absolutely and completely right in their unwaveringly strong support for the effort put into the War and for their continued and vocal recognition of the threats we face from the Islamists arrayed against the West. Politically, I don’t have many other points of agreement with them. Lieberman is an old-fashioned liberal who believes in big government, although not in the shrill, aggressive way of the new Progressives. McCain also believes in big government and, more worrisomely, I understand that he believes that the government should get into the job of financing elections, which will see the inevitable destruction of free speech in America. I would prefer Romney to either of them. Heck, I’d even prefer Giuliani to either of them, since Giuliani has given his word to appoint strict constructionists to the Supreme Court, and McCain hasn’t (and Lieberman wouldn’t). However….

However, if it came down to a race between McCain and Lieberman, on the one hand, and any of the Democratic candidates, on the other hand, I would vote for McCain and Lieberman without a second thought. Their understanding of the international risks we face makes them so far superior to the Democratic candidates that any other political liabilities they carry with them will just have to be accepted. I mean, think about it: If the candidates are virtually identical in their domestic policies, with the only real difference — and a very real difference indeed — being whether they are hawks or doves, who are you going to vote for? If you’re going to get one issue right when running for the White House, at least let it be the right issue. Domestic idiocy can usually be straightened out over time, but if we lose the War against Islamists, everything else becomes irrelevant and irremediable.

UPDATENot going to happen says the Captain, citing some very reliable sources.

Elections for the me generation

I am not a touchy-feely person. I managed to grow up in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1960s and 1970s without ever feeling the need to join into the narcissistic self-validation that Cyra McFadden so perfectly captured in her 70s classic The Serial, a novel that followed a number of self-involved, self-actualizers in Marin County. This is not to say I’m not self-centered or self-involved — I am. I just have the decency to be embarrassed about those feelings, instead of boastful. It’s small wonder, then, that I don’t like Oprah. Watching her show makes me feel uncomfortable. With all the emotions slopping out, it’s like peeping through someone’s bedroom window — and that’s despite the fact that she compulsively invites people in.

All of this may explain why I’m increasingly uncomfortable with the 2008 President race, which is probably the realistic end point of Bill Clinton’s 1992 “I feel your pain” campaign. The candidates are walking emotions, and the voters are mewling narcissists. Or, as Jonah Goldberg explains:

What Americans really want when they look into a politician’s eyes is to see their own images reflected back, like in Narcissus’ pool. The presidency in particular has become the highest ground in the culture war. Americans want a candidate who validates them personally. “I’m voting for him because he’s a hunter like me.” “I’m backing her because she’s a woman too.” “I’m for that guy because he’s angry like me.” Such sentiments have colored the presidential contest for so long, they’ve saturated it like stain into wood.

“Authenticity” — on which voters supposedly place such a premium — is really just a label put on self-validation. Bill Clinton infamously promised he felt our pain. Hillary Clinton similarly sold her 2000 bid for the Senate by arguing that she was more concerned about the issues that concern New Yorkers than her competitor. Question: Would you prefer a blase surgeon remove your appendix or a very concerned plumber?

On Monday, Hillary Clinton got all choked up campaigning in New Hampshire. “This is very personal for me,” she said of her bid for the presidency, seemingly holding back tears. “It’s not just political. I see what’s happening (in America). We have to reverse it.” Later, she explained that she wanted people to know that she’s a “real person.”

In a sense, this is populism updated for the age of “Oprah” and “Dr. Phil.” Principles and policy details take a back seat to the need to say “there, there — I understand” to voters. As Willie Stark, the populist protagonist of “All the King’s Men,” bellows to the insatiably needy crowds: “Your will is my strength, and your need is my justice.”

Years ago, I attended a Peter, Paul & Mary concert. Noel Paul did a semi-humorous anecdote that stuck with me. He commented on the titles of fluffy magazines at the supermarket checkout stand. They used to be things like Mademoiselle and Glamour and People. Then came Us. Self quickly followed. What next, he asked? A magazine entitled Me which, when happened opened, contains nothing but a shiny foil in which you can admire your reflection? Paul was prescient but he got the forum wrong. It wasn’t in the world of magazines that this was going to happen. In magazines, instead, we got to read about someone else admire her own wonderfulness: Oprah, Martha, Rosie. Nope, it turns out that where the “me” phenomenon hit was the world of politics, and if that doesn’t make the hairs on the back of your next stand up with horror, you’ve got nerves of steel.

Has Iowa instantly become obsolete?

Well, tidings from New Hampshire, at least on the Democratic side, are surprising. (I don’t think anyone is really surprised by the fact that McCain prevailed, as the polls showed he would.) Everyone thought that Dems and Independents were flocking to the polls to crown Obama, but it looks as if many were flocking to the polls to vote for someone who can at least boast more familiarity with the White House floor plan than Obama can. It turns out that reports of Hillary’s political death were greatly exaggerated. It also shows that, at least in New Hampshire, pragmatism wins over some sort of goofy idealism for an empty shirt who mirrors everyone’s secret desires. In any event, the most important lesson was that, in this race, it truly ain’t over until it’s over — or at least until Super Tuesday is over.

I’d like to think that, misty dreams of the magic Obama notwithstanding, your ordinary liberal voters — not your hardcore moonbats — are still somewhat pragmatic, and fell for Hillary’s “I’ve got experience” sell.  (And the funny thing is that, compared to the other frontrunners, she does have experience.)  I found this outcome rather cheering, because I’m hoping the same pragmatism prevails in November 2008.  Southern states notwithstanding, I think Huckapalooza is over.  The Paulian surge is also over, or will be as the ugliness in his past begins to catch up with him.  This means that whichever Republican becomes the candidate, he will be a man with hard, successful experience in both the political and the real world.  Perhaps, when the real elections roll around and voters are faced with the practical experience on the Right, and the impractical experience on the Left, that same pragmatism will kick in and witness a vote for a Romney, McCain, Thompson or Giuliani, each of whom has proven himself in the real world as well as the political world.

A little perspective on inevitability *UPDATED*

Democrats are euphoric and Republicans are panicking: Obama is inevitable. But not so fast, mes amis, says William Katz, looking back in time. In the rough and tumble world of American politics, nothing is inevitable and voters are never predictable. Since Mr. Katz’s hyperlinks are not working, let me quote for you here his entire post about the myth of political inevitability, a myth that starts with Hillary herself:

In the profound words of that late, great philosopher and student of human affairs, George Gobel, can we just wait a gosh-darned second, just a gosh-darned second? The way the press is reporting it, you’d think Senator Obama was about to be crowned rather than elected, and would then take time away from the White House to compete in all the events at the 2010 Olympics, including ice dancing.

Any candidate, including Mr. Obama, is beatable. It wasn’t more than a month ago that Hillary Clinton had a lock. Some of us recall President Tom Dewey, who was already being called “Mr. President” before the uncooperative voters of 1948 made their choice. Lincoln thought he would sink in 1864. Some around Jack Kennedy thought the same about 1964, especially if stories of Kennedy’s womanizing came to light. Even Ronald Reagan gave us a scare when he faltered during his first debate with Walter Mondale in 1984.

But the greatest caution against assigning god-like qualities to candidates involves 1944. Franklin D. Roosevelt, the war leader, was running for his fourth term. The election was held five months after D-Day. Victory in both Europe and the Pacific was in sight. Many could not conceive of a wartime America without Roosevelt at the helm. Even the Republicans cooperated, pulling their punches during the campaign as they bowed to the need for unity in war. Roosevelt’s opponent was the aforementioned Tom Dewey, making his first run for the presidency. Governor of New York, colorless, he hardly cut the figure of a man born to lead armies. With his mustache, he was often called “the man on the wedding cake.” This guy would tell MacArthur and Eisenhower what to do?

Well, Roosevelt did win, but ponder this: Tom Dewey got 46 percent of the vote. Almost one of two Americans voted against the man who epitomized “commander in chief.” The Battle of the Bulge, with its terrible setbacks and awful American casualties, began a bit more than a month after the election. Had it begun six weeks earlier, who knows how Americans would have reacted? It could have been Dewey announcing the defeat of the Axis the next year.

So, may we have some reason, please? Mr. Obama may win his party’s nomination. The entire electorate will have something to say in November. The word “inevitable” does not exist in politics.

UPDATE:  Mark Stricherz offers a little more historical perspective on inevitability.

I’m consistent in my beliefs

Phibian sent me over to a fun ABC News/USA Today site where it asks you to answer multiple choice questions about your beliefs on some national and international issues, and then ranks your answers against candidate positions to pick your perfect candidate.  I came out precisely as you’d expect me to if you read my blog.  However, since my print screen key is not working (so I can’t capture a screen shot), you’ll have to go over to Phibian’s place, since he ended up with the same candidates as I did, in the same order of precedence, even though he and I did not cast the same votes on the same questions.

Where will you come out?