Jewish World Review June 7, 2002 / 27 Sivan, 5762

Lewis A. Fein

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The Enemy of Eloquence -- On the radio of political oratory, between Franklin Roosevelt's fearless talk and Winston Churchill's defiant speech, there is also static -- the incomprehensible noise of nothingness. This absence of words - a kind of silent speech, disguised as wisdom and advertised as military secrecy - is something else entirely: a denial, almost an arrogant gesture against, rhetoric's ability to inform and inspire. And, imprisoned within a fortress of marble columns and oval rooms, is the enemy of eloquence -- President George W. Bush.

This avoidance of public speech is simply further proof of a condition, contracted and transmitted across the Bushes' political DNA, that Democrats already know and conservatives must now readily admit: that Mr. Bush (like his father) hates the poetry of politics, the kind of grand rhetoric that - when delivered by John Kennedy or broadcast by Ronald Reagan - is purely about individual vision. For Mr. Bush, either by circumstance or fatal design, considers himself better than political rhetoric -- a presidential prince, one that generates applause by lifting his hand and commands submission by narrowing his eyes.

But royal gestures are not the same as presidential acts, even if the White House is a secular castle or Air Force One a modern carriage. Rather, presidential leadership - no, successful presidential leadership - is about the role of government, about its ability to tax treasure or expend blood. About its ability to treat citizens equally, regardless of race or independent of personal belief. About its ability to summon soldiers across great oceans and before vast deserts, with the law's blessing and the public's knowledge. About its ability to respect its own limitations, treating the Constitution - not as faded ink, engraved upon Philadelphia parchment - but as the only nonviolent restriction between absolute tyranny and republican rule.

For all the above issues - encapsulated by every voter's basic thought, "What does George W. Bush believe, and why does he refuse to clearly, persuasively and permanently record his political beliefs?" - the president has no answer. He has no answer because, like his father, he believes a collection of conservative words and liberal policies pleases all voters: that, when the moment requires it, he can strike a cowboy's pose or a patrician's posture or a hero's welcome.

But, even if Mr. Bush hires Ronald Reagan's tailor or raids his own father's closet, there is something that no article of clothing can hide -- the president's ideological nakedness. This lack of conviction - and no, reasonable and morally justified condemnations of murderous evil are not themselves proof of anything, beyond common sense - ultimately undermines the president's perceived integrity. For, if the president easily (too easily) segues from Western ruggedness to New England preppiness, how can voters identify the real George W. Bush -- the one that simultaneously speaks about "evildoers" and pressures Israel to negotiate with terrorists, or extols the virtues of free enterprise while shouldering employers with new rules about global warming?

In truth, Mr. Bush is lucky. He is lucky because of the faint opposition he typically faces and the scant criticism he currently enjoys. Yet, the absence of dissent is not itself a form of political support. Rather, the president must recognize the importance of ideological conviction and rhetorical clarity. He must find his own inspirational voice. Or, should he arrogantly deny rhetoric's importance or ideology's necessity, there is surely one address Mr. Bush will deliver: his own 2004 concession speech.

JWR contributor Lewis A. Fein is a writer and Internet entrepreneur in Los Angeles.Comment by clicking here.


© 2001, Lewis A. Fein