When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson

08 January 2009

In praise of thoughtful speaking

James Fallows, present-day journalist and once-upon-a-time Presidential speechwriter, deplores the rhetorically lazy habit of ending speeches with the phrase "...and God Bless the United States of America" (or its shorter variant, "God Bless America")...and takes the President-Elect to task for same:
I love the Irving Berlin song. I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment. But a little chunk is hacked away from the national brain each time a president gets out of a speech not with a thought or original phrase but with this mindless pablum. This has become the political equivalent of "Have a nice day!"

Isn't this how presidents have always talked? God, no. You didn't get it from George Washington. You didn't get it from Abraham Lincoln, either in the hands-down winner as Greatest Inaugural Address Ever, his second or in that work of political haiku, Gettysburg Address. You didn't hear it from FDR.

Many of these titans spoke of God -- but when they did so, it was with some actual thought-content. For instance, from the close of Lincoln's Second Inaugural:

Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether." With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in...
Sorry to hear Obama talking this way (James Fallows)

Speaking of intelligent speechifying invoking God, you really should read Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address if you haven't recently (or ever--as was my case.)

It's a corker.

A little more Lincoln:
One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.

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