Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

A word on words

Fred Thompson’s comment "We just got our ticket to the next dance," reminds to say a brief word on the language used by both Huckabee and Thompson, and why it appeals to folks. Romney (and Hillary) speak in platitudes and abstractions, and this, in large measure, explains why their campaigns don’t seem to have energy. Their words don’t bring forth images. They are too abstract, stiff, cold. Her rhetoric always gives the impression that she is talking at you, rather than having a conversation with you. A candidate should be able to talk with people in a way that also gives the (honest) impression that he is having a conversation with not only them, but also with himself. This mode verges on poetry, not just rhetoric. I recollect Fred Thompson’s statement a few days ago that although he wanted to be president he really didn’t like campaigning (Peter Lawler noticed this); he was questioning himself, hence seemed very honest, authentic. (That it was misunderstood by the MSM is another matter).

Hillary is the best example of cold talk, but Romney is not far behind. This nis what folks mean by "boring." She can’t inspire. She also does not tell stories, or doesn’t tell them well (also true of Edwards, who tells a few, but they’re always brought forth by anger). This, I assert, is one of the reasons why Huckabee and Thompson are liked (and is also related to why Obama is liked, but that is a more complicated story) and explains why their supporters are more enthusiastic and why such candidates are said to be more "authentic." I don’t mean to say that the candidates’ positions, etc., don’t have anything to do with it, but "white papers" can’t seduce, only spoken words can in a campaign. And those words become part of the person who speaks them, and as that person seems comfortable is speaking, he pulls the listener towards him, in every way. I think this is worth paying attention to, especially as we are coming out of an era in which (unfortunately) our president doesn’t seem able to speak thus in public (in private, I am told, is another matter). This also explains my bias toward southerners and westerners, their talk is more enlivened, vivid, full of metaphors, more human. Do you think this dog hunts?

Discussions - 5 Comments

I do. There is a post on the Reagan coalition down below and one of the aspects of Reagan that we all miss is the human and humane articulation of those principles that warm the conservative inclinations of American hearts. Warm talk, not cold talk, nor hot talk, which is what disturbs people about McCain.


We do tend to forget the desire people haave for engaging language. There is a conservative story to be told, and we need a good story-teller. Democrats can pull at heartstrings with with moving stories of the needs of the poor and traumatized among us. Thank God Hillary tells those stories badly. I wonder if the fact that Obama speaks to that better is what draws in Oprah and her cohort?


Anyway, yes, warming language draws the ear and cold language shuts it down and we badly need a candidate with warm, vivid and engaging language to keep American ears open to conservative principles. Thank you for bringing it up.

Talking with yourself in public (as long as you're not drunk and standing on a street corner with a cup in your hands) is the same thing as thinking in public. It draws people in because it invites them to think with you. It shows them that there is life and activity in your mind. You are not settled in all things . . . you are awake to the world around you and to people and events. It does not mean that you lack grounding . . . though, if you never cease questioning, you will look indecisive. We are a people of ideas and we like thinking them through . . . and it's always more interesting and more exciting to think them through with others. It is an utterly American thing to do. People who talk at you (as opposed to with you) come off as too aristocratic to be considered fully (or authentically) American. They are the sort of folks who have pretensions to know (better than you ever could, of course) about what is in your own best interest. Try walking up to a guy hard at work some day and saying, "Hey, buddy. I think you should change your life in the following six ways. You should listen to me because I have the following five degrees and I hang around with people who are much more sophisticated and talented than you are." That's what Hillary and Romney sound like--even if that's not always what they mean to sound like. Huck and Obama don't sound that way--even if what they are saying does not always mean what it sounds like. Both are good salesmen. It's their products that I question.

Liveliness of language indicates a vivacity of the mind, yes. The kind of thinking aloud that you are writing about, here, Julie, is not appreciated in American politics. I like the idea of politicians thinking through out loud, and changing their minds in the process, maybe. You can follow the train of thought on slavery through Lincoln's speeches, for example. But the public likes, or the media who present them to us likes, to have a politician think consistently. A change of mind is called a flip-flop, which sounds fishy to us. I wonder if a politician could ever walk the public through a change of policy or principle as in thinking out loud in public and thereby carry the rest of us with him.

I wonder if Obama is unformed enough as a pol. to be able to talk through his political philosophy as he goes along. He does seem to shift and change a bit and that's what makes him seem complicated, maybe.

But someone who can sell his political product (being himself and his ideas, I suppose) in an engaging and interesting way has a better chance of winning support. An engaging speaker with a lively turn of phrase and language full of imagery AND a good product: that's what I am waiting for, longing for, in a presidential candidate.

Thinking through a thing in public is good to do as long as your bedrock principles are solid. If you are still thinking through your bedrock principles, you best do that with your friends, and in private.

I have been thinking about your last comment. It reminds me of standing in front of my first college classroom full of students, after introducing myself, having them introduce themselves. The fourth or fifth student had declared herself a Christian believer. The next student, a boy, said "I don't really believe in anything." or something like that. I stood thinking that through for a beat and then said, "'Thou shalt not kill.' I think we would all like to know where you stand on that one." "Oh, I have that one down." he said, "I agree with that." I was beaming at him by that time, partly because I had the sense that the laughing class had just slipped into my hip pocket. "Well that's a start and a comfort."

Bedrock principles are just the sort of thing people need to talk about in public. Not many of the young people in my classes know what those are, since they get their basic principles jumbled at them along with "Thou shalt not litter." and such like.

Did you see the Ayaan Hirsi Ali review of THE SUICIDE OF REASON, by Lee Harris? Reading that today spurred me to this response, even though it is too little and probably to late to have much effect. (If writing on the back pages of this blog ever has any effect.) She says that people's basic assumptions, principles, are changeable and subject to reason. The topic is Islam, but it holds here, too.

Anyway, even if a politician has his bedrock principles down, how some given issue might relate to that principle can be interesting to work out. Presumably, not killing is basic to the ethos of every politician out there, but how that relates to the topic of abortion, say, varies. The flips or flops on that issue occur right on that bedrock principle and the question about it is made open with the lever of individual right, another principle.


Abortion is a settled issue for me, but I would love to see a politician work that out, say Guiliani, who I would like to support except for his apparent bedrock moral principles in this and a couple of other areas.

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