In Defense of a Silver Tongue

I have been hearing the phrase “Silver-Tongued Devil” used repeatedly to describe Barack Obama in the past several weeks.  I have spent much of my blogging time of late castigating McCain for the Palin VP pick, and charging the Republican ticket with bald-faced lying.  I’d like to switch gears a little and explain why I believe Obama’s so-called “silver tongue” is an asset to this country.

We have spent the past eight years under an administration that has butchered the English language and embarrassed our country.  Our current president cannot pronounce “nuclear” correctly, and he is given to such grammatically abhorrent coinages as, “I’m the Decider.”  Basically, when he talks, he sounds dumb.

As a country, we cannot afford to sound dumb anymore.  Neither can we afford to sound “folksy,” as some have called Sarah Palin’s form of rhetoric.  “Folksy” might make politicians seem approachable, like “one of us,” but it makes them look like rubes on the world stage.

And then we have John McCain, whose rhetorical style alternates between angry and flippant.  I cannot imagine why, as a country, we would want to elect someone president who made a public joke out of bombing Iran to the tune of a Beach Boys song.

That kind of humor is incredibly dangerous and irresponsible, and if it was a joke then, it will not be a joke when we are sending troops from our already stretched military into yet another Middle Eastern war.

Too, McCain’s well-documented mean streak, and willingness to publicly swear at and name-call those who anger him (including his wife) is also a very real danger to our country.  We cannot know what world leaders will anger a “President McCain.”  Will he take off his shoe and pound it on the table?  What conflicts will that cause for us?

What I have admired about Barack Obama, from the first time I heard him speak, was his ability to sound calm, reasonable, and insightful.  You may disagree with me on whether he actually is all those things (and I believe he is), but a leader who is given to calm and rational discourse is a leader we surely need right now.

My mother, who is fairly conservative by Vermont standards (that is, she often votes Republican, and did vote for G.W. the first time around), put it to me this way: “We need a leader who won’t embarrass our country.  We need a leader we can be proud of on the world stage.  I think Barack Obama could be that person.”

A silver tongue does not make one a “devil.”  It often is a sign of an effective negotiator–a person to whom others look to lead the way.  A person possessing a silver tongue can often disagree tactfully and reasonably, without inciting anger or resentment among those with whom they disagree.

I tell my composition students that a person who writes rationally and persuasively–using grammatical conventions and a friendly, empathetic tone, rallies readers to their cause, and confers those qualities they’ve displayed in their writing upon themselves, personally, in the readers’ minds.

I believe it is much the same way with speaking–that a calm, reasoned approach is one that rallies people to the speaker’s cause.  As president, Barack Obama’s “silver tongue” may have the chance to once again rally entire countries, and even much of the world, to our cause–that of liberty, equality, and democracy.


5 responses to this post.

  1. Hear, hear! Very well put.

  2. We must be confusing our kids. We tell our kids to study hard, do well in school, go to good colleges, amke the most of their education so they have the best opportunities to succeed… but then we denigrate folks like Obama who take that advice seriously and become outstanding, well-educated communicators.

    Great communication skills are indeed a priceless asset, not a liability. (I guess the GOP would rather not remember Reagan this year.)

  3. Posted by Matt on September 11, 2008 at 12:56 pm

    I shared this blog entry with my language-lover coworker Beth and she stated, “very nice. can we have everyone in america read that please?” A careful and thoughtful breakdown of the contrasts with which we’re dealing.

    I watched a clip of Obama on Letterman last night, defending the damn “lipstick on a pig” hooey the Republican is getting all righteously outraged over. It’s kind of sad when a man must spell out an idiom to counter the idiots who took it out of context. But he calmly explained it anyway with a touch of humor. I appreciate someone who doesn’t sink to their level when he’s defending himself. His manner, actually, speaks volumes about who he is…and the idea of him as our President makes me feel safer.

  4. Posted by flyingtomato on September 11, 2008 at 1:25 pm

    Thanks for sharing it, Matt!

    I did make one small change this morning–“conveys” to the correct “confers.” Sometimes it’s hard to be one’s own editor and proofreader!

    I realized the remedy for the incorrect usage as I was washing my face and getting ready for bed–literally shouting “CONFER!” into the towel as I was drying my face.

    But, my laptop was already shut down, so I waited ’til this morning.

    I’m not THAT linguistically obsessive. Just a little. 😉


  5. Couldn’t agree with you more, Rebecca! Every time I see the “Great Moments in Presidential History” bit on Letterman, it cracks me up. But I always turn to Cory and say, “Is he really our president?” I’m getting tired of saying that.

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