Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Presidential Words and Deeds

Joe Knippenburg, professor of politics at Oglethorpe University, has these wise reflections on President Obama's fine speech at the Inauguration ("Variations on a Theme: Spare Change in Obama's Inaugural Address," Ashbrook Center editorial).

I wished also to suggest to them both the importance and limits of words. Like all his predecessors, Barack Obama faces the twin challenges of moving from words to deeds, and using his words to move us to deeds. The fact that very different presidents can sound quite similar ought to be sufficient to remind us that their words may not fully reveal their intentions and that, even if they do, those intentions have to be fulfilled on the ground, so to speak. Presidents can be sidetracked or distracted by unanticipated events. They can fall into the trap of believing that governing isn’t all that different from campaigning, that what worked to get voters to the polls will work just as well to get members of Congress to sign onto legislative initiatives. They can misread public sentiments. And, most importantly, they can come to believe that their words are “reality” or by themselves can change reality, while, as a matter of fact, their words are most effective and persuasive when they conform to reality.

Reagan was a man of his word. Clinton was a man merely of words. W was a man who struggled with words, but he did what he said he would do. We will judge this President by how true he is to his words, such as his commitment to be “faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.”


Pat Buchanan found the speech remarkably neo-Reaganite.

Jon Stewart saw Obama, but heard George W. Bush. This is funny.

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