Richard Greene says that Barack Obama's one speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention proves he's ready to be president. Dan Carol agrees.
Barack Obama is an obviously intelligent man and a terrific speaker. His potential is seemingly limitless; one can easily envision him sitting in the Oval Office one day.
But I don't understand the pell mell rush on the part of those who support him to see him nominated in 2008.
He’s been in the US Senate since January, 2005 and has scant local political experience.
Are his skills as an orator sufficient reason to nominate him?
The capacity to connect with people through oratory is an important political skill, often missing in contemporary leaders. It may even be the most desirable and necessary of skills for truly great leadership.
But through the years, there have been political wunderkinds who wowed their parties, then fizzled when they proved to be not quite ready for prime time.
William Jennings Bryan impressed Democrats late in the nineteenth century, so much so that he was nominated for president three different times. In the end, his oratory proved stirring, but his leadership shallow. When, in deference to his standing as a leader of their party, Woodrow Wilson appointed Bryan to be his secretary of state, Bryan proved completely ineffectual.
In the late-1930s, a young district attorney from New York City, a silver-tongued orator who had courageously gone after mobsters was nominated by the Republicans, first in 1944, losing to Franklin Roosevelt and then in 1948, going down to the most ignominious defeat in presidential election history, the most notorious “one that got away” ever. The oratorical skills of Thomas Dewey proved, by a few votes, not to be as persuasive as the plain speech--and the substantive policies--of Harry Truman.
Also back in the 1930s, Republican Harold Stassen hit the national scene, the celebrated “boy governor” of Minnesota. His ascent to the presidency was sometimes seen as a matter of course. But Stassen, infected with the sense of White House entitlement some would today confer on Barack Obama, became the victim of his own headlines. Stassen eventually became a tragic laughingstock, a perennial candidate for president, marginalized to being nothing more than a punchline in ‘Tonight Show’ jokes.
Obama appears to have a bright political future. But those who support him would be well-advised to truly support him. Let him get the seasoning of national political experience and an expanded national network of friends and contacts which an effective president needs.
Some will argue that the current occupant of the White House had a scant five years as the constitutionally weak governor of Texas before being elected president in 2000. But surely, even if, as is likely of Obama supporters, you believe that George W. Bush has been a bad president, that’s no argument for electing someone who has less significant political experience than Mr. Bush had when he went to the White House.
Fine oratory can reflect the workings of a fine mind, the capacity for empathy, and the ability to communicate policy convincingly. But oratorical skills and the qualities which may (or may not) lie behind them prove nothing about a potential president’s ability to deal with the unanticipated national security crisis as she or he sits in the Situation Room. It says nothing about their ability to see their way to a compromise among members of Congress in order to advance a legislative agenda or agreement between foreign leaders in order to advance peace. In private, as Roosevelt often confided to aides after listening to another flight of negotiating table oratory from Churchill, rhetorical skills can be tiresome and ineffective. One must know how and when to use it.
And speaking of Churchill, to whom Greene refers, he was maybe the greatest political leader of the twentieth century, much of his leadership exerted through the power of his oratory. But remember that when Churchill was elevated to prime minister, he’d already had a lifetime of political experience, both legislative and executive. That portfolio included some disasters which had taught him a lot. (Success is an awful teacher compared to failure.) Churchill proved ready for prime time not just because he was an eloquent and insightful speaker. His great oratory was a tool for advancing his goals as a leader. Barack Obama clearly has the tool of oratory. But his supporters would, I think, be well-advised to give him time to develop himself as a leader.
[WOW!: I am honored beyond words by what Annie at Ambivablog says in linking to this post. She calls this "the definitive post on why Barack Obama's undeniable oratorical skills are not enough to qualify him for the presidency in 2008. Lucid, comprehensive, and conclusive -- case closed." Thank you so much, Amba!]
[FURTHER THANKS TO: Amba for linking to this post over at Donklephant.]
[THANKS TO: Joe Gandelman at The Moderate Voice for linking to this post.]
[NOTE: People may not like politics or politicians, but they do want their Presidents to have some political savvy. That's the thrust of my response to jpe's comments below. Thanks to jpe for commenting.]
[FURTHER THANKS TO: TruthLaidBear for linking to this post. Also see here.]
[MORE THANKS TO: Maverick Views for linking to this post. I appreciate it.]
[THANKS TO: Rick Moore of HolyCoast for linking to this post. Thanks, Rick!]