Monday, February 18, 2008

Words Matter When Struggles Matter

A few words about the recent uproar with Golden Boy Barry. The Precious has been shown to be speaking almost the exact same words, using the exact same physical gestures, as Gov. Deval Patrick used for his gubernatorial run. This is not really plagiarism, per se, especially as Gov. Patrick has granted The Precious permission to reuse the governor's speeches.

This is something rather worse than plagiarism, because it cuts directly to the heart of what The Golden One's claim to fame is - being a great orator who articulates our shared hopes and channels them into change.

As a number of other bloggers have noted, the people to whom The Precious is compared because of his mad oratoratin' skillz were not merely or even primarily great public speakers. They were actors whose words have become sacred to us because of what they did, the context in which their way of being in the world inbued their words with substance. King's dream was so powerful because we saw on our TV screens King's nightmare - the dogs, the fire hoses, the beatings and, finally, the funeral. Or think of Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address:
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'.

I know of no other statement that can, with such power and economy, simultaneously explain, justify and mourn the Civil War. Lincoln spoke as the Commander in Chief who pursued war when much of the nation would have refused it, not counting the "bondman's toil" to be worth the blood of Union soldiers.

These are words that matter because of the what the speaker had already done and because the words referred to issues so profound they were fracturing the nation to its foundations. King and Lincoln were participating in fights worth having. They weren't just gussying up a little campaign rhetoric, or borrowing a couple of lines like someone might borrow a cup of sugar or a neat turn of phrase. Would JFK's "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country," line be so resonant today if not for the things he actually did for his country? FDR's admonition about not fearing anything save fear itself, was backed by his administration's proven track record of taking on enormous and terrifying challenges facing the nation as a result of the Great Depression and succeeding. Rural electrification, Social Security, WPA and a host of other bureaus, departments and measures that improved the lives of Americans.

Words that matter. Fights that matter. The words that come out of a candidate's mouth should be grounded in the substance of what she intends to do if given the public's trust. They may be awkward and overly wonky (thus boring the Kewl Kidz to sleep), but words spoken out of deep conviction in and committment to actions that better the lives of citizens are what partisans want to hear. When Obama supporters flatly say they don't expect him to achieve anything of substance if he gets elected, but, hey, at least he won't be trashed quite so much as HRC, they've just given me the ultimate reason to not vote for the guy. After all, all he's offering is "just words."

The reason why Golden Boy Barry's words are so offensive to me is not that he borrowed them from Gov. Patrick, but that he had to borrow them at all.



Anonymous said...

"In the beginning there was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.", King James Bible.

Obama's campaign strategy has been that his speech defines Obama, not his achievement. If you want to know Obama, you listen to his words. Now we found out that what came out of his mouth is not his words after all. So the question remains who actually is Obama. What does he stands for? what is his believe? what is his idea?

I don't have the same question for Hillary. Hillary is Hillary. She never tries to be someone else. Her judgement, her life, her achievement define her. I now who she is, what she stands for. So she have my full confidence to be the next president.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post. Obama is using GOP Hillary-hate, GOP strategists and strategy and successfully getting some democrats to think that they hate Bill and Hillary Clinton. The absurdity and the viciousness of it astounds me. Why don't democrats remember that Bill and Hillary did and has continued to do a lot of good for the party, for the poor, for women and minorities, for the sick...I could go on. (The answer is that the GOP is using Obama to tear the democratic party apart...and it's working.)

The only way out of this mess, in my opinon, is a Clinton/Obama ticket. Let's hope democrats realize Hillary is the only one with experience to be president at a time when we are at war and going into economic depression, and Obama can use his inspiration and uniting skills to bring the party back together. We don't even need independents and repugs to win in November...we just need to stay united.

Anonymous said...

Well put, that it is the actions and context behind the words that give them power. Obama says "just words?" and then quotes memorable words by people who did great things. Obama has not done great things, he just talks of them, and wants the voters to think that his words are the equivalent of King's or Kennedy's or Roosevelt's. Reading prepared or borrowed speeches in a fine baritone voice does not mean very much at all by itself, unless we are electing a late night TV host instead of a President.

Anonymous said...

Too bad the voters in Wisconsin still went for Obama. *Sigh*. I don't want to say it is over for HRC until TX, PA, and OH but this woman is facing unbelievable challenges including the netroots, the MSM, and crazy Obamabots.
Let us hope that there is something bigger than plagiarism that will bring him down before March 4th.

Anonymous said...

You should be on MSNBC or CNN. You have said what I think everyone is trying to say in a powerful and deliverable way. I don´t even think the Clinton surrogates have said it better than this. Obama´s words are fleeting because their is no struggle behind him, no cause to be for or against other than vague concepts of "change" and "hope". The only specific thing he is against is "the same old people in Washington" (Clinton most certainly included) as if nobody there has ever accomplished anything and only HE is ordained with that job..

very glad to have found your blog