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Jonathan Tobin: Defending the Right to a Jewish State

Heather Hale: Compliment your kids without giving them big heads

Megan Shauri: 10 ways you are ruining your own happiness

Carolyn Bigda: 8 Best Dividend Stocks for 2015

Kiplinger's Personal Finance editors: 7 Things You Didn't Know About Paying Off Student Loans

Samantha Olson: The Crucial Mistake 55% Of Parents Are Making At Their Baby's Bedtime

Densie Well, Ph.D., R.D. Open your eyes to yellow vegetables

The Kosher Gourmet by Megan Gordon With its colorful cache of purples and oranges and reds, COLLARD GREEN SLAW is a marvelous mood booster --- not to mention just downright delish
April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review Feb. 29, 2008 / 23 Adar I 5768

Words Aren't Cheap

By Michael Gerson


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http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | When Hillary Clinton sensed her presidential hopes beginning to slip away, she turned to an attack on Barack Obama's rhetoric. "There's a big difference between us," she argued, "speeches versus solutions, talk versus action. . . . Words are cheap." And further: "Speeches don't put food on the table" — as though her own hectoring and position papers were an all-you-can-eat buffet.


John McCain will be tempted to make a similar attack, having already accused Obama of offering "only rhetoric." And it, too, would be a mistake.


Many political advisers in both parties employ "rhetoric" as a synonym for "folderol." Winging it in speeches is generally viewed as more authentic, and authenticity plays well with dial groups — groups that also helpfully inform us that Americans don't like downbeat words such as "war" or "sacrifice" or "poverty," preferring instead cheerful terms such as "marshmallows" and "pixie dust."


This is nonsense. From the Greek beginnings of political rhetoric, the wise have described a relationship between the discipline of writing and the discipline of thought. The construction of serious speeches forces candidates (or presidents) to grapple with their own beliefs, even when they don't write every word themselves. If those convictions cannot be marshaled in the orderly battalions of formal rhetoric, they are probably incoherent.


The triumph of shoddy, thoughtless spontaneity is the death of rhetorical ambition. A memorable, well-crafted speech includes historical references that cultivate national memory and unity — "Four score and seven years ago." It makes use of rhythm and repetition to build enthusiasm and commitment — "I have a dream." And a great speech finds some way to rephrase the American creed, describing an absolute human equality not always evident to the human eye.


Civil rights leaders possessed few weapons but eloquence — and their words hardly came cheap. Every president eventually needs the tools of rhetoric, to stiffen national resolve in difficult times or to honor the dead unfairly taken.


It is not a failure for Obama to understand and exercise this element of leadership; it is an advantage.


Some Obama critics go even further, accusing him of inducing a "creepy," "cultish" "euphoria." A candidate delivers a good stump speech, adds a dose of personal magnetism and suddenly he is a sorcerer, practicing the dark arts of demagoguery.


But Obamamania is pretty mild stuff compared with our rhetorical history. When William Jennings Bryan finished his "Cross of Gold" Speech at the 1896 Democratic convention, extending his hands outward in cruciform melodrama, witnesses described a 40-minute riot, with "hills and valleys of shrieking men and women" and old men "crying bitterly, great tears rolling from their eyes into their bearded cheeks." After Douglas MacArthur addressed a joint session of Congress in 1951, Rep. Dewey Short shouted: "We heard God speak here today, God in the flesh, the voice of G-d!"


Ah, those were the days of real rhetorical witchcraft.


It is not uncommon for American politicians to rise on the swell of their own words. A young Hubert Humphrey gained prominence at the 1948 Democratic convention with an uncompromising speech on civil rights, confronting those who thought America was "rushing" the issue: "I say to them we are 172 years late!" Ronald Reagan earned a national reputation making his televised case for Barry Goldwater in 1964, condemning Cold War appeasement with the argument that "the martyrs of history were not fools."


Obama is the latest in this distinguished series. Should he become the Democratic nominee, his own convention is likely to see hills and valleys of shrieking men and women. And why not? His speech will be ambitious, well delivered and historic — the Democratic Party did not even admit African American delegates until 1936.


Obama's rhetorical skill will present a problem for McCain. The Arizona senator's close adviser Mark Salter is among the best writers in American politics. But McCain's delivery is often rigid and old-fashioned — sprinkled with "my friends" in the manner of Richard Nixon or Gerald Ford. And his use of the teleprompter is more awkward and obvious than Obama's.


McCain can and should make an ideological case against his opponent. Why does Obama want to fight terrorists in Pakistan and Afghanistan but not in Iraq? How would it advance the war on terrorism to grant al-Qaeda's fondest wish — an untimely American retreat from the Middle East? Would Obama really devote his first year in office to a series of surrender summits with the leaders of Cuba, Iran, Venezuela and North Korea?


These are serious criticisms; the argument against rhetoric is not. Obama's political weakness is that he is too liberal, not that he is too eloquent.


Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in the media and Washington consider "must-reading". Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

Comment on Michael Gerson's column by clicking here.



Previously:


02/22/08: He Said, They Said
02/20/08: Dying silently in Zimbabwe
02/15/08: Hillary's Unappealing Path
02/13/08: NATO's Afghan Stumbles
02/08/08: Why McCain Endures
02/06/08: One surge that led to another
02/01/08: In North Korea, Process Over Progress
01/30/08: Compassionate to the end


© 2008, WPWG

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