Monday, August 18, 2008

Writers and Politicians -- Kindred Spirits?

It's only words, and words are all I have, to take your heart away.
The Bee Gees

Words are the primary means of communications among us humans. By definition, we writers believe in the value of words and count on getting paid for how we put them together.

So why so philosophical? The Democratic governor of Tennessee says presidential candidate Barack Obama should stop “giving big speeches at big stadiums.” He’s not alone in his belief. Words that inspire are under fire in this campaign.

My daughter and I went to see Barack Obama last night in San Francisco. He started slow, but by the end of a thirty-minute speech he had everyone there shouting and clapping in support of his vision of a better America.

Saying a politician is too good with words is like saying a writer is. You know, that William Shakespeare can sure turn a phrase but what else is he good for? Words are the tools of a political leader. Without words a politician cannot do great things.

Would the British have stood alone against the greatest evil the world has ever known without the rhetoric of Winston Churchill? After the fall of France in June 1940, he said:

Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may more forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, "This was their Finest Hour."

Churchill’s speeches were not sufficient to stop Hitler. They didn’t conjure up aircraft, ships, and rifles. But his words inspired the British people to fight long and hard to win.

Politics is indeed the art of the possible. Programs are needed, votes must be traded, and compromises made. But the first step to real change is inspiration, painting a word picture of where we are going and why we are going there. Senator Obama wants us to imagine a country again respected for its moral authority, a country where all children get the opportunity for a first-class education, and a country that does not send our wealth to other countries who misuse it. When he’s done talking, I believe it’s possible. My cynicism after decades of broken promises in Washington diminishes.

It’s no surprise that Senator Obama is a bestselling author. His memoir Dreams from My Father was written well before he started his political career. Writers and politicians are kindred spirits who both use words to accomplish their aims. Bravo!


Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

"Go on doing with your pen what in other times was done with the sword." -- Thomas Jefferson (to Thomas Paine)

Wonderful post, Keith. Like you, my cynicism about the government is anxious to take a holiday.

Joe Moore said...

Nice words, Keith. I too have felt inspired from listening to Obama. It was quite a feeling of pride recently to see so many Germans waving American flags as they listened to the senator rather than protesters facing police lines when our current president visits other countries. It's nice to listen to someone inspire pride in America again.

Anonymous said...

Hear hear! As an American who no longer lives there and whose heart is stabbed by most 'official' commentary coming out of the mouths of those ruling from DC at the moment [the latest being the hypocracy over Georgia; I wonder if Dubya thought it was the state next to Florida where his brother used to rule], I can only hope the changing of the guard is complete in November. I still get to vote, albeit in Arizona, so fat chance my vote will count, but I will cast it.

Good for you, Keith, to see the man that close. Probably felt much like when I saw Bobby Kennedy in Indiana in '68. Quite a memorable moment.

Felicia Donovan said...

Great post Keith and I, too, have been greatly impressed by Obama's words, but I'm also anxious to have words turned into action.

Your post also reminded me of how very lucky I am to live in the State of New Hampshire because of our unique access to all of the Presidential candidates. We sometimes take it for granted that we have so many opportunities, literally within a few miles, to meet them. When I read about others traveling for miles and having to wait in line to meet the candidates, I think of how often they appear right where we're eating lunch or working. It's just one of the many things that makes this state so unique.

Action. I'm ready for action.

G.M. Malliet said...

Felicia - I hear you. I don't really trust any of these guys any more, feeling I've been sold a bill of goods too many times, by both parties. If either candidate, whoever wins, will finally address the healthcare fiasco, I'd maybe start to believe again.

Keith Raffel said...

JWhit, One of the greatest speeches of the last century was given by RFK in Indiana in 1968. You can see it here.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link, Keith. Bobby was special, and therefore dangerous to the power brokers. I doubt we'll ever know the full story behind the whole Kennedy era. They weren't saints, but they were special. No teleprompter in sight.