The War of Words

Guys, do you remember the first time you tried to talk to a girl? I don’t know if it’s the same for girls, but I have a theory. Looking back, I believe that the odds of your words coming out exactly as you wanted them were directly proportional to your age and indirectly proportional to the cuteness of the target of your potential conversation. To put it simply, if you were young enough, and she had the kind of smile that knocked you loopy, even if all you wanted to say was, “Will you go out with me?” the only thing that came out of your mouth was a few unintelligible grunts.


Although my application for a federal grant to research this theory on verbal acuity has not yet been approved, I’m already thinking of broadening the scope of its application. You see, besides the problems of the pre-pubescent teen, I’ve found another prime candidate that exhibits this type of verbal phenomenon, in fact they are candidates.


But instead of variables for age and beauty, my theory is that the factors governing the chances for a political gaffe come from the amount of passion they have for the position, the strength of their desire to achieve, and some sort of formula that takes into account the amount of practice they’ve put in versus the level of personal belief the individual has in the words he or she is trying to deliver.


And given the heated race for the presidency, we’ve got no shortage of transcripts that we can use as examples. Take for instance John McCain responding to a question about the dangers in the Middle East by saying “I’m afraid it’s a very hard struggle, particularly given the situation on the Iraq-Pakistan border.” Now anyone with an atlas can verify that there is no direct border between Iraq and Pakistan. And if they are honest, most people can put their political bias aside and see that McCain meant to say Afghanistan, not Pakistan. A simple slip of the tongue, right?


Likewise, I’m sure even the staunchest Republican would have to admit (although they’d probably have to be waterboarded first) that Barack Obama knows his U.S. geography a little better than was demonstrated when he suggested that he had visited 57 states, not including Alaska and Hawaii, and still had one to go.


You can harp on these lighter moments of a serious situation all you want, but in my opinion, it really doesn’t have much bearing on the overall ability of either candidate to lead. Was Yogi Berra any less of a leader when he purportedly issued statements like, “Line up in a circle”? Well, I think Berra would have understood whole-heartedly the passion and pressure that is part of a candidate making the statement, “It’s always a bad practice to say ‘always’ or ‘never’".


When I hear a candidate confuse Shiites and Sunnis, or claim that “Israel has always been a friend to Israel”, I don’t automatically associate it with the variables of age or experience. I take into account the incredible microscope that these people live under and acknowledge the extreme difficulty it has to be to, in essence, perform for the public nearly 24 hours a day. My uncle has held lead roles on and off Broadway for many, many years, yet I can’t imagine how he would possibly hold up if he had to stay on stage for a comparable amount of time.


So where does that leave us? If, indeed, we are to cut the candidates some slack in what are obviously simple mistakes, how do we judge ability and sincerity? How do we discern a credible leader from a competent performance artist? The first step is to listen to what they say well, and assess the value of what they say with the validity of their own actions. Words are cheap if they stand alone. And most of us can better judge the character of a candidate by watching what they do, not reading what they say.


To that end, I can’t say that I’m impressed with the Obama campaign when it criticizes McCain for wanting a continued presence in Iraq, then admits to 200,000 people in Berlin that “American bases built in the last century still help to defend the security of this continent.” I have a hard time swallowing his aggressive stance on extending taxes while he then states, “Together, we must forge trade that truly rewards the work that creates wealth.” And I struggle to believe a person who proclaims a desire to avoid race as an issue, then stands up and says; “I know I don’t look like the Americans who’ve previously spoken in this great city.”


I’m willing to look past the random gaffes of any politician, but I have a hard time following a candidate that decries any challenge of his own patriotism while speech after speech seems to always include backhanded compliments as to the greatness of the very nation he seeks to lead. If he wishes to instill the sense of hope he advertises, perhaps he could take a note or two from his new European friends. After all, it was French President Sarkozy who gave one of the most inspiring speeches I’ve ever heard, when he told Congress:


From the very beginning, the American dream meant putting into practice the dreams of the Old World. From the very beginning, the American dream meant proving to all mankind that freedom, justice, human rights and democracy were no utopia but were rather the most realistic policy there is and the most likely to improve the fate of each and every person. America did not tell the millions of men and women who came from every country in the world and who–with their hands, their intelligence and their heart–built the greatest nation in the world: “Come, and everything will be given to you.” She said: “Come, and the only limits to what you’ll be able to achieve will be your own courage and your own talent.” America embodies this extraordinary ability to grant each and every person a second chance. Here, both the humblest and most illustrious citizens alike know that nothing is owed to them and that everything has to be earned. That’s what constitutes the moral value of America. America did not teach men the idea of freedom; she taught them how to practice it. And she fought for this freedom whenever she felt it to be threatened somewhere in the world. It was by watching America grow that men and women understood that freedom was possible.What made America great was her ability to transform her own dream into hope for all mankind.

I know it “ain’t over till it’s over”, but Vive l’America, and long live the candidate that practices better than he preaches.

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Volume 4, Issue 16, Posted 8:05 AM, 07.28.2008