Our President's Eloquence

Medicine Globally by Dr. Rene Menguy



Dr. Rene Menguy

True eloquence consists in saying all that should be said and that only.
De La Rochefoucauld.

Few would question Mr. Barak Obama’s eloquence as a public speaker and campaigner, a gift recognized early during his Senate career, which is why the Party chose him to give a nominating speech at their convention.

A few months before the last election, seated at dinner next to my host’s grandson, a college senior, I queried him about his views on the coming election; he replied that Obama was far and away his choice. He responded to my “pray tell” with the answer I’ve heard time and time again since then. “He’s got this fantastic charisma.”

My retort: “So did Hitler.” brought an end to our conversation.

The word derived from the Greek describes personality traits that by their charm and magnetism set someone far apart and above his contemporaries. The persona must be public. Hermits don’t have charisma. Public recognition of the traits usually stem from some extraordinary act or speech. Alexander must have had “it” because of his string of military victories, his bravery and his conquest of most of the known world at that time. And remember Cicero and his skillful us of the mantra: quousque tandem-how long- repeated again and again in one of his Catalina orations, a technique used effectively many years ago by a Southern Politician.

Since Obama did not author any significant bills during his brief Senatorial career, one may safely assume that he owed his victory to his eloquence. So, what was his secret? I believe I may have found the answer. While reading the NDN during the week end, I was struck by an excerpt from an address he gave at the end of his Asian tour.

“I spoke with leaders of every Nation I visited about what we can do to sustain this economic recovery and bring back jobs and prosperity for our people- a task I will continue to focus on relentlessly in the weeks and months ahead.”

Eloquence may be defined as the fluent and effective use of language. Fine, I’m OK with that. On the other hand, what is the EFFECTIVE use of language? To be effective, language must be concise and precise without “fillers” such as:” the weeks and months ahead”. The word relentless is thrown in for effect, not added meaning; pursuit suffices. Moreover, it should communicate tangible ideas and avoid the vague and the abstract. That long sentence doesn’t mention anything substantive that he might have learned from those world leaders.

On the other hand, in my experience, public speaking requires a delicate balance between style and content. A speech with too many concrete ideas forces the audience to strain to catch up, and many can’t. Whether one is speaking to five, twenty or a hundred people most will take away only a fraction of the message.

Therefore, great public speakers build their speeches with a few concrete, thematic messages surrounded by sonorous notes like relentless or sustain, or weeks and months ahead. Our President does this very well and people do like him for it.

However, a time may come when some will start saying: “Where’s the Beef?”

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