Empty rhetoric defended with yet more

Empty rhetoric defended with yet more

One of the knocks against Barack Obama is that his famously stemwinding speeches are all emotion and no substance, that it’s merely empty rhetoric. Now, he’s responding to those claims with … more empty rhetoric. Obama is lifting the phrasing of Mass. Gov. Deval Patrick, who had himself responded to the accusations of his Republican opponent that he was offering empty rhetoric.

Here is what Patrick said in his speech:

“But her dismissive point, and I hear it a lot from her staff, is that all I have to offer is words — just words. ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, [applause and cheers] that all men are created equal.’ [Sustained applause and cheers.] Just words – just words! ‘We have nothing to fear but fear itself.’ Just words! ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.’ Just words! ‘I have a dream.’ Just words!”

Note the construction of a famous quote followed by “just words.” Now here is Obama’s speech:

“Don’t tell me words don’t matter! ‘I have a dream.’ Just words. ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’ Just words! [Applause.] ‘We have nothing to fear but fear itself.’ Just words — just speeches!”

Now, as James Taranto notes, we should not be surprised that politicians would lift or “share” such lines. Politicians, after all, employ speechwriters whose job it is to put words in their mouths. But what strikes us here is that both Obama and Patrick totally miss the point.

Although the other two examples are arguable either way, “We hold these truths …” and “I have a dream” were anything but “just words.” They were words that held enormous meaning because of the historical context in which they were, respectively, written and uttered. Can the same be said of Obamanalities like “Yes, we can,” or “Change we can believe in”?

Obama and Patrick routinely traffic in empty, feel-good phrases that give the illusion of substance and, more importantly, hope and good will, but which in fact mask a lack of substance that hopes to hide the real reason they hope we’ll vote for him: that he plays the part well; that it is a role that fits him.

 

Written by
Domenico Bettinelli
1 comment
  • Question:

    Who had as his slogan:

    “Si Se Puede!” (English translation: “Yes, we can!”)

    Answer:

    Cesar Chavez (1927 – 1993)

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