Eloquence Isn’t Leadership: Smooth Talk vs. Inner Strength

By | October 31, 2018 | 0 Comments

If I asked you what Moses, King George VI, George W. Bush, and Donald Trump had in common, you probably would say nothing at all. The Bible tells us that Moses was not an accomplished public speaker. Unlike his older brother Aaron, he was not comfortable in front of crowds.

When Moses learned he was to be the Lord’s spokesman to pharaoh, Moses protested:

And Moses said unto the Lord, O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue. Exodus 4:10

Nevertheless, the Lord chose Moses, not his more eloquent brother, to be His spokesman, and to lead the Israelites out of bondage to freedom. Aaron proved to be irresolute. He allowed the people to build a golden calf as a pagan idol, while Moses was receiving the Ten Commandments.

Eloquence is a tool. Like any tool, it can be used wisely or misused. Churchill was both a great orator and a great leader. Edward R. Murrow, the dean of American reporters, said that Churchill “mobilized the English language and sent it to war.”

But persons who combine great leadership with great oratory are rare. If we wait for one in a time of crisis, we may find ourselves still waiting while our nation circles the drain. In peacetime, when nothing much is happening, we can afford to elect a smooth talker who is a mediocre leader. Bill Clinton comes to mind. But in a time of crisis, a smooth talker may prove to be inadequate. Barack Obama comes to mind.

A similar situation occurred when George VI, the father of the present Queen Elizabeth, unexpectedly ascended the British throne in 1936. His older brother, Edward VIII, was forced to abdicate when he insisted on marrying a twice-divorced woman. Edward was gregarious and well-liked. He was an excellent speaker. However, the government decided − providentially − that he would not be a good king.

The obvious problem was Edward’s impending marriage, but the deeper problem was his friendship with British fascists. In fact, after his abdication, he and his new wife were photographed shaking hands with a beaming Adolf Hitler. We can only wince at the thought that Edward might have been king when World War II broke out. Smooth talk and personal charm are no substitutes for wisdom and strength.

Like Moses, the younger brother, George VI, was a poor public speaker. George had a severe stammer. As shown in the film “The King’s Speech,” a speech coach helped him to the point that he could speak adequately in public, but he was far from eloquent.

Nevertheless, what George VI lacked in eloquence he more than made up for in integrity and inner strength. He was a devoted husband and father. He had been a naval officer, and his patriotism was unquestioned. He was a symbol of national unity during World War II, as was his family.

During the worst of the Nazi bombing of London, his wife, Queen Elizabeth, the mother of the current queen, was asked whether her two daughters would be sent to Canada for safety. She replied, “The children won’t go without me, I won’t leave without the king, and the king will never leave.” If you look in the dictionary under “R” for resolute, you will find a picture of the beloved “Queen Mum,” who died in 2002 at the age of 101.

George W. Bush’s opponent in 2000 was Al Gore. Gore was an experienced though stiff speaker. But he spoke about how man-caused global warming would bring on disaster in just a few years. He spoke about how he had taken the initiative in creating the Internet, and how he had discovered the Love Canal toxic site. He spoke eloquently about things that never happened.

Bush’s opponent in 2004 was John Kerry. Kerry was even stiffer in public than Gore, though he too was an experienced speaker. But he spoke about how America had to meet a “global test” before we took military action, and about how we should wage a “sensitive war” on terrorism. He spoke eloquently about impractical, dangerous ideas.

The American people recognized that George W. Bush, for all his stumbling through the dictionary, was expressing wiser ideas.

Barack Obama is a graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School. He takes care to use only approved, politically correct speech. He apologizes for America, whose faults − real or imagined − he learned from prestigious leftist professors.

Obama’s eloquence is in part real, and in part a fabrication of the media. Remember his having visited “57 states,” his claim that the Constitution is “2000 years old,” and his twice mispronouncing Navy corpsman as “corpse man”? You don’t remember? I don’t blame you. The media minimized or hid his verbal blunders.

I knew a magna-cum-laude graduate of Harvard University who couldn’t find his own rear end with both hands, a map, a GPS, and a flashlight. I knew a graduate of Harvard Law School who knew so little law that his colleagues questioned whether he was an impostor. I knew a graduate of Stanford Medical School who often disappeared while on duty. So perhaps you will understand if I put little credence in fancy diplomas, and instead put great emphasis on common sense ‒ and the strength to put it to use.

And so we come to Donald J. Trump. No one would call him eloquent in a Churchillian sense, or even in an Obamian sense. But he surely does energize and motivate audiences. He is eloquent in the Lloyd George sense: he gets things done. He speaks not so much at an audience, but with it. Despite his personal wealth, he comes across as a real person, not as an actor playing a politician.

Can anyone really claim to know Barack Obama? Can anyone tell what he really thinks of ordinary people? Yes, he drops clues ‒ recall the “bitter clingers” to religion and guns. But if you don’t listen to the smooth style, and instead read a transcript of what he actually said, often you will find that the smooth words carry little meaning, and sometimes none at all.

In contrast, we do know Donald Trump, warts and all. That, too, is a form of communication. And so is his obvious toughness and willingness to fight for what he believes.

You do not need to charm when you are manifestly made of iron. It is a form of communication in itself. − Paul Johnson, discussing Margaret Thatcher

In response to the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre in which at least 11 were murdered, President Trump commented that if an armed defender had been present, some or all of the murders might have been prevented. Of course, neither Barack Obama nor Hillary Clinton would have made such a common-sense proposal. Yet CNN pundits lost no time in condemning the President for not waiting until all the facts were available. But what conceivable facts could negate this blatantly obvious idea?

We use armed guards to protect banks, but not schools or houses of worship. Apparently “liberals” value money more than human life. But not billionaire Trump, who expresses himself far less eloquently, but who says things that are far more closely related to reality.

The key questions are these: Do we have the wisdom to distinguish style from substance? Do we have the wisdom to distinguish academic intelligence from practical intelligence? Do we have the wisdom to distinguish glib talk from wise words? Do we have the wisdom to distinguish beautiful-sounding leftist theories from mundane-sounding ideas grounded in reality? Indeed, do we have the wisdom to recognize wisdom when we see it? Time will tell.

Do I wish that we conservatives had more eloquent spokespersons? Yes. But I will continue to pay more attention to what people say than how they say it. Smooth talk may win a debate, but the world is not a debating society. It is a dangerous place filled with dangerous people, who understand very clearly the difference between a smooth talker and a strong leader. It is time that we understand it, too.

Contact: dstol@prodigy.net. You are welcome to publish or post these articles, provided that you cite the author and website.


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