Must Translate Candidates’ Rhetoric to Reality
- 13 January 2008 by Author 0 Comments
Must Translate Candidates’ Rhetoric to Reality
By Richard Larsen
Published – Idaho State Journal, 01/13/08
Oftentimes, especially in American political discourse, lofty sounding rhetoric is found appealing, even hopeful. Some of the greatest speeches of the 20th century were delivered by people serving in the political arena. Franklin Roosevelt’s first inaugural address, John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural address, Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream,” and Ronald Reagan’s “A Time for Choosing” speeches come readily to mind. They inspired, they motivated, and they highlighted the leadership qualities of those who delivered them.
But inspiring speeches, in order to have credence with a sentient audience, must make a connection between the ideal and reality. It must be not only filled with hope and optimism, but it requires grounding in reality that recognizes where we are as a nation, and where we need to be headed for the future. In order to do that, there must be a substance accompanying the declared ideals.
The cries for unity by the Presidential candidates have an appeal to all Americans, until those lofty sounding phrases are translated to reality. They then must be seen for what they are: empty, meaningless platitudes appealing to emotion, while leaving logic and reason wanting for substance. Plato made the distinction between form versus substance, and most of what we are hearing from the stump speeches is form with very little substance.
For example, all of the candidates for President speak eloquently about the need to achieve “unity,” “working together,” “reaching out,” and “ending the divisional strife” that exists in America now. It makes for good stump speeches and often creates a revival-like atmosphere that some reporters even claim makes it difficult for them to remain objective while covering the candidates. Especially during the primaries, such speech makes sense since they need to unify their respective party’s support behind them to be successful next November.
I genuinely enjoy hearing political leaders speak so grandiloquently and ideally. It is inspiring, and it does imbue emotions of solidarity and hope. But these cries for unity are eerily similar in theme to what Presidential Candidate George W. Bush was saying throughout the 2000 campaign. The former Governor had built a solid reputation by working with both political parties in Texas to solve the problems of the state, and from accounts on both sides of the political aisle, that reputation was well deserved.
For all the calls of “unity” and “working together” and “reaching out” by President Bush, Washington, D.C. proved to be more of a challenge than Austin, TX. Numerous efforts to include Tom Daschle, Ted Kennedy, and the Democratic leadership in White House functions and initiatives were met with vicious and vitriolic backlashes from those being “reached out” to. Ted Kennedy even was invited to the White House for movies, and wrote the No Child Left Behind Act for the President. But that did nothing to assuage the negativity spewed out against the White House by Congressmen and Senators intent on scoring political points with potshots at the President, rather than attempting to solve the problems of the nation.
Speeches by political leaders can depict their vision for the future of our country, and their stalwart leadership coincident with that vision can provide the necessary direction. But as the saying goes, “The devil is in the details.” What are the specific initiatives and policies that underscore that vision? What specific legislation or budgeting priorities correspond with that vision? If candidate’s speeches are only platitudes that sound good, we are left wanting for substance about what they have to offer to truly unify the country.
In other words, when a candidate calls for unity without the unifying substance, in reality he is simply proclaiming that he wants everyone to unite behind his values. That everyone who believes differently than he does on specific issues needs to change their minds and agree with him so that we can be united. He declares that our values aren’t as viable or important as his so we need to change our values so we can be united. He proclaims that those of us who disagree with him must sacrifice our values for the sake of unity.
Take any important issue that divides Americans and explain exactly how unity can be achieved without one of the two sides giving up its values and embracing the other position. Whether its tax cuts, free market principles, border security, the future of Social Security, or the War against Terror of which the War in Iraq and Afghanistan are the primary fronts. With each of these issues, a call for “unity” is an affront to logic which maintains different perspectives and positions.
Some of the candidates, for example, are ardent about rolling back the Bush tax cuts which have spawned respectable growth of the economy and literally flooded the treasury with tax receipts. How can we be unified with such an economically ludicrous position of rolling back those tax cuts, and taking that money out of the hands of the consumers who make this economy work, especially since we may be on the verge of a recession? It makes no logical economic sense.
How can we be unified with the commitment of some of the candidates to withdraw troops from Iraq immediately, when it is obvious that we are winning against the Jihadists and the country is becoming increasingly stable? The fundamental question of whether we are safer by engaging and eradicating them or allowing them to freely expand their operations in the Middle East and globally begs an answer. If we’re safer by withdrawing and allowing them their terroristic plots, why do we still seek to reduce crime and apprehend criminals? If we’re safer by withdrawal from terror, the logic holds that we’re safer by withdrawing from the apprehension of criminals.
This same process can be engaged for all of the major issues facing the country. It seems in this post-Enlightenment era of mass communication, and having a veritable cornucopia of primary informational sources literally at our fingertips, we should not sacrifice the tools of evidence and reasoning at the altar of impressive rhetoric. Just because a candidate eloquently pleads for unity, doesn’t mean his positions are any less divisive. In some candidates’ lexicons, “unity” and “bi-partisanship” both mean “do it my way.” Before we buy into the grandiloquence, we’d better know what that way truly is. The devil truly is in the details.
Richard Larsen is President of Larsen Financial, a brokerage and financial planning firm in Pocatello, and is a graduate of Idaho State University with a BA in Political Science and History and former member of the Idaho State Journal Editorial Board. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.