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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Monday, February 25, 2008

Words Fitly Spoken: Part I

I confess. I'm a recovering political junky. It all started when I met Ronald and Nancy Reagan in 1980. Secret Service would not let Governor Reagan use my pen as we shook hands, but Nancy was kind enough to scrawl her name on my clipboard as we shared an umbrella in the rain. Ever since, I've been fascinated by Presidential races, and along the way I've gotten handshakes, photos, and autographs from many candidates and all three Republican Presidents. But so far this primary season I have deliberately avoided politics.

(Okay. Okay... I did write one tongue-in-cheek movie review last November, and yes it was a thinly veiled op-ed on Hillary. Sorry if that was too harsh. But other than that essay, I've held off until now.)

One of the reasons I enjoy reading comments at POI is that they come from a diverse gathering of "friends on the front porch." Some don't share my views, but you don't mind that I do. Some don't share my faith, but you don't mind that I do. (By the way, my blog header mentions that I'm a follower of Christ as reminder to myself not as an earned merit badge.) We come from across the continent and beyond—Canadian, American, Men, Women, Catholic, Protestant, Democrat, Republican, White, Black, Hispanic, Malaysian, Thai, etc. Old friends. New friends. People I see every week, and people I will never meet in this life. That's what I love about blogging.
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I'm saying this because politics can set people's teeth on edge, and I don't want to do that. Maybe it will help if I say up front that this series of posts is not about issues. Not that issues aren't important—they are—but issues will always be with us. This primary season, however, has already offered something that comes along perhaps once in a generation. If I were teaching a "public speaking" class again, my students and I would be immersed in this discussion. I hope you find it equally interesting.

“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” Proverbs 25:11

Words Fitly Spoken: Part I
She Said He Said

On a July evening in 2004, this Republican was watching the Democratic Convention when a young legislator from Illinois delivered the keynote address. I had never seen his face before, and frankly did know his first from his last name, but after months of listening to John Kerry's haughty air, I turned to my wife and said, "Now here is a Democrat who's going to be President someday." It wasn't that I agreed with everything he was saying, but I was very impressed with his ability to say it.

Four months later Barack Obama was sworn in as a U.S. Senator, and four years later we all know his name. I still disagree with him on some very important issues, but I agree with the way he disagrees with me. His disarming tone is a force all its own. He's like Reagan in that regard, but his words soar above those of "the great communicator." He has MLK's gift of rhetorical rhythms, and JFK's ability to offset inexperience with themes of promise.

I don't mean to dash the hopes of Hillary's loyal entourage or McCain's reluctant mutineers or Huckabee's faithful few. This is not an endorsement; nor is it a prediction; it's simply a "hat tip" to one of the best public orators since... well, since the men he was falsely accused of plagiarizing this past week.

In last Thursday's debate, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton engaged not in a war of words but in a war about words--about their value compared to actions, their power to persuade, and their source when borrowed. Evidently Hillary knew she was no match for Obama as a public speaker so she began belittling the importance of "good speeches" a few weeks ago. To counter that attack, Barack added to the beginning of his stump speech a short string of famous quotations followed by "Just words?" He barrowed the device from a friend, Deval Patrick, who used it two years ago. See the comparison here, but keep in mind these lines are simply literary allusions.

So it seemed petty indeed when in the middle of the debate Hillary accused Obama of stealing that part of someone else's speech. Obama was speechless--no pun intended--but he eventually muttered, "The notion that I had plagiarized from someone who is one of my national co-chairs. This is where we start getting into silly season in politics..."

Hillary had this rehearsed line up her sleeve (we'll assume she wrote it herself): “Lifting whole passages from someone else’s speeches is not change you can believe in. It’s change you can Xerox.” She got booed. I'll admit, if Hillary could prove that many of Obama's orations are in fact the lip-synched words of lesser-known politicians (or if his book The Audacity of Hope was entirely ghost written), she'd have a point, but those particular lines have been "lifted" throughout American history.

For instance, Jefferson first penned "all men are created equal," and then Lincoln used the phrase in the Gettysburg Address, and then MLK used it in "I Have a Dream," and so on. One of the other lines Obama "lifted" from Deval Patrick's speech was the quotation attributed to JFK, "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." BUT WAIT, perhaps Hillary should have also debunked Kennedy for "lifting" those words from Khalil Gibran who said in his 1925 published work, "The New Frontier" (36 years before Kennedy's Inaugural), "Are you a politician asking what your country can do for you or a zealous one asking what you can do for your country?...." BUT WAIT... maybe she should also question Gibran's originality since Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, in a Memorial Day address is 1884 stated: "It is now the moment when by common consent we pause to ... recall what our country has done for each of us, and to ask ourselves what we can do for our country in return."

See what I mean? In the world of politics, a quotation often gets attributed to the person who said it best not first.

By the end of Thursday's debate, Hillary was temporarily in a much better mood, as you can see in the first part of this youtube clip. Then two days later in Ohio (Saturday) her honor turned to anger as she pretended to challenge Obama to a "bring it on" debate (the one that's been scheduled for weeks). The next day in R.I. (Sunday) her honor turned to mockery in this speech.
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I'll post the second part of this series Wednesday or Thursday (after Tuesday's debate). In the meantime, if you haven't seen the following two videos, they will underscore what I'm saying about Obama's disarming gift with words fitly spoken.

The first is his Yes We Can speech delivered in New Hampshire. The second is the Yes We Can music video that inspired these artists after they heard the speech. This line seems to stand out as uniquely his own: "In this unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope."

Now do you see what Obama means when he insists that there is a difference between momentum in a race and A MOMENT in history? This is not an endorsement. It is a study in effective rhetoric that Hillary will find hard to top and stop. Sore words rarely trump words that soar. Likewise, McCain (no matter how many "my friends" he inserts into his speeches) will have difficulty overcoming the face-to-face charisma of this young senator whose name is becoming easier for Americans to say with each passing day.
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Part II will attempt to distinguish between the MOMENT and OBAMANIA
by applying Aristotle's elements of rhetoric: Ethos, Pathos, and Logos.

12 Comments:

Blogger heiresschild said...

hi Tom, no, my part of MD didn't get snow, but we had a very bad ice storm which caused many accidents and power outtages. i think the snow would have been better and probably less dangerous. sorry, no snow pics this time.

25/2/08 2:13 AM  
Blogger Dr.John said...

I used to coach debate and I agree he is a great speaker. It's just that some of what he says makes me nervous.

25/2/08 12:08 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

HC,
I thought I saw Maryland on the warning map under a blanket of white. South of us they're in a snow warning tonight, but I think we're going to miss it up here. Thanks for stopping by and for being a good sport about this post. =)

Dr. John,
I agree. Like "What happens to the Iraqis when we pull out?" and "How do we pay for all these great ideas?" and "Please name the top ten most influential people of your future cabinet." (Will their track record be as straight-line liberal as his or will he truly build a "centrist" cabinet?)
You'll notice I'm going out of my way NOT to endorse while admitting that I'm fascinated by his charisma and phenomenal impact on audiences (and the conundrum Bill and Hillary face in trying to minimalist him).
Part II will address some of the concerns with links to some good articles.

25/2/08 7:50 PM  
Blogger Tracie said...

Hi Tom, I have been out of touch with all my blogs for so long. When I got your comment I thought it would be a great time to catch up with you. I couldn't go another second without telling you how deeply sorry I am about your mom. My family and I will continue to pray for you and your family.
Tracie

25/2/08 10:05 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Tracie,
Thanks for stopping by and for praying for us. I was telling my wife just tonight that I'm not sure when it will hit me again because sometimes it all seems like a dream. The Thailand trip, the week with Mom, the week of the funeral. Things are starting to feel normal, but it's sort of a three steps forward one step back process. I’ll be working on the video from the Thailand trip later this week. I’m looking forward to that. If I figure out how to upload to Youtube, I’ll share some clips.

25/2/08 10:38 PM  
Blogger J_G said...

arrgghh Tom, McCain mutineer here. I agree with your point about Barack Obama having the gift of speaking. That's all well and good but if you're a person like me I have to cut through all the fluff to get the meat of the issue. Obscuring one's motives with fancy speaking is something that I won't tolerate. I don't mind if someone is a good speaker but they have get to the point rather quickly for me to consider someone viable in their opinions.

I think this is one of the things that is inspiring so many people with Obama. After eight years of a President that can't string two words together without injecting er, uh, um breaking up the cadence, Obama is a big relief to those that listen but do not hear.

I listen more to the speech content rather than speaking style. I would rather listen to someone that says things poorly that agree with my political outlook than someone that speaks well but says things I totally disagree with. It makes no difference to me how it is said I will understand the meaning or I will question the speaker's motivation if they don't make clear their meaning such as Obama.

Obama's speech is nice but it is vapid and full of platitudes that are meaningless or purposefully ambiguous. Clinton can't attack Obama on content because her policy proposals are identical to Obama's so that leaves her to try the Clinton hit squad tactics and they don't seem to be working well now.

26/2/08 4:30 AM  
Anonymous Ryan A. said...

I also disagree with Obama's political views but I have this deep respect for a junior senator who can run for presidents against older, more experienced candidates. My respect for him isn't just rooted in that, it's also rooted in the fact that he can inspire hope into people with his speeches. He definitely has a gift. Hey, maybe someday he'll join the ranks of the most famous orators in history...
http://keyspeeches.blogspot.com

26/2/08 5:36 AM  
Blogger Tracie said...

My husband and I are very interested in seeing some more things from your trip to Thailand...love all the photos you posted. Ben is Philippino but his father was a surveyor so they traveled a lot. They moved to Thailand for his work and Ben was born there.

26/2/08 7:48 AM  
Blogger Cris said...

I agree with j_g. He is a very eloquent speaker with that certain charm that seems to easily capture the audience. I too disagree with him on the important issues. What makes me nervous is that he has a very good chance of becoming the next president, and that could mean real trouble for America.

26/2/08 6:01 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

J_G,
Arrgghh... you Navy people know all the pirate lingo! =)

There is no question that substance and style have to balance. I don't think OHS lacks substance. I think he is waiting until his "ground-up" momentum can carry his lift his agenda beyond the reach of McCain. It is the substance that will be contested in the general election, but by then the bandwagon will be fleet of bandwagons.
You're right W's speaking ability. I like Bush. I know he's getting tarred and feathered right now, but before it became open season on him, I thought he had a pretty good self-depricating STRATEGERY that made up for his words unfitly spoken. (There will be some Bushisms and some Dan Quale quotes that support your point in Part II).
Looking forward to tonight's debate in the context of this weekend's tone between them.

Ryan,
Welcome to POI. I like your blog and hope to spend more time there. I can see why this topic is of interest to you. It is BHO's ability to inspire and the heights to which people feel inspired that is truly phenominal. More about that later. Please come again.

Tracie,
I didn't know that! I will be posting more Thailand stuff next week.

Cris,
I think the interesting twists and turns of this primary season and BHO's meteoric rise in contrast to McCain's reluctant mutineers is a sign that the race is Obama's to lose. As for his presidency... the unknown is always scary. "Change to what?" will become the question, but we know all these things are a part of God's unfolding plan.

26/2/08 6:47 PM  
Blogger Nancy said...

Tom, I can't wait to come back and catch up... I am going to value your input because I am having a hard time making up my mind and our primary is still several months away.

I will be in Mexico until next week but I will read every word when I get back.

You and your family are still in my prayers. Your postive attitude is shining through as always. You are an example for all of us to follow and that is a blessing indeed!

26/2/08 9:50 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Thank you, Nancy,
Have a nice trip to Mexico. Sounds warm. We got a couple more inches of snow last night.
As for the North Carolina primaries... I suspect the crystal ball will be in better focus by then. My guess is that this topic--the role of leaders to grasp ideas, hold high ideals, and inspire the people to reach them--will still be front and center.

26/2/08 10:34 PM  

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