OK, so political rhetoric often lacks a certain intellectual pizzazz. Politicians – properly – speak to the electorate, and not to the faculty at Harvard. And what campaign wants for a fluffy, harmless sound-bite theme: "Morning in America"? Nothing wrong with that, either.
But what happens when rhetoric and sound-bites utterly supplant substance? When a campaign is based completely on fluff? Or, as herein relevant, upon "hope".
Obama ranks among the smartest men ever to seek to the Presidency, so running a campaign devoid of content smacks of cynicism: playing the people for rubes too stupid to appreciate his actual proposals. Instead of elevating the discourse, he elevates the oratory, with stirring passages, but all sound and fury, signifying nothing. (Shakespeare, not Deval Patrick)
Confronted with well-directed criticism that his campaign represents nothing more than empty rhetoric – words without substance – Obama, paraphrased (without attribution) the words of another cipher candidate, Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, who said, in response to a similar (entirely true) accusation:
"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, that all men are created equal.' 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!"
Leaving aside the hubris inherent in comparing one’s own words to those of Jefferson, Roosevelt, King, or Kennedy ("Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy: I knew Jack Kennedy; Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy."), it might profit a listener to contrast the substance behind the soaring oratory these men employed with the lack thereof behind Obama’s speeches.
Consider King. He employed his oratory in furtherance of asking America to deliver on the unkept promise of the Declaration, that all men are, in fact, created equal. In the cited speech, he said:
"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."
King did not lead his followers in mindless chants about "change" and "hope"; he – and they – articulated a specific set of proposals. Indeed, on the substance, the quoted language clearly advocates abjuring the drawing of distinctions based upon matters as irrelevant as race or ethnicity.
The modern Democratic Party, contrariwise, considers those distinctions of the utmost importance, demanding that people be judged on the color of their skin. Indeed, Obama’s supporters subtly, but unmistakably, play the race card. Had he been a white male, no amount of soaring rhetoric would have catapulted him into the lead in this campaign, despite his woeful lack of qualifications for the office he seeks. About one thing can we be absolutely certain: utterly frivolous charges of racism will follow any and all criticism of Obama or his policies.
Kennedy. He, too, spoke in lofty terms, employing inspiring rhetoric in the best tradition of the spoken word. But, again, he articulated both specific policies and precise principles, not mere feel good, new-age, focus-group-tested blather.
And, on the merits, can anyone imagine a modern Democrat – confronting the various constituency groups of supplicants with their hands out which form said Party – delivering a speech which included the phrase "Ask Not"? Kennedy called upon the American people for shared sacrifice, even at the cost of life, to defend freedom around the world and make America freer and more prosperous.
The entire basis of the modern Democratic Party is the reciprocal: "Ask not what you can do for your country, demand to know what’s in it for you". Once one actually gets to the substance of the Obama campaign, it amounts to little more than promises to provide voters with goodies at the expense of others. Kennedy would have produced a litter of kittens upon hearing his clarion call to service bastardized into a whiney demand for subsidy.
Kennedy’s rhetoric – and his policies – inspired through calls for service and sacrifice in furtherance of liberty. Modern Democrats, in contrast, inspire by envy: someone else has something, and you, the voters, should support those who will take it from them and give it to you. Not very edifying. Not very Kennedy-esque. Remember, Kennedy proposed massive tax cuts aimed, in large measure, at those evil, horrible, awful RICH. He shared more in common with Ronald Reagan than with Barack Obama.
Already, the media seems to be catching on. Increasingly, stories about the downright creepy nature of this campaign appear in the so-called mainstream media. Supporters, asked why they support Obama, offer absolutely no concrete explanation, citing not a single accomplishment nor a single proposal. Even Hillary Clinton, exasperated at being soundly thrashed by a campaign based wholly upon air, has taken to castigating the nominee presumptive as completely lacking in substance.
But why should Obama quibble with success? He seems to be banking upon the old adage that no one ever lost an election by underestimating the intelligence of the American people. (He may prove the adage again this year) His campaign calls to mind nothing so much as the housing or tech stock bubbles: inflated, unrealistic expectations of performance wholly unrelated to the actual value of the item itself. Or a craze, like Pet Rocks, in which people act irrationally, only to wonder, later, "what was I thinking?" (The correct answer: "you weren’t; that’s precisely the problem.")
Like those bubbles and fads, the aura around Obama will eventually burst, leaving the people who invested in it burned and remorseful, feeling used and betrayed. The sole question is whether that happens before November 4. If the electorate rediscovers that is composed of adults, who should know better than to believe in the fairy dust Obama peddles, he has no chance.