It's only words, and words are all I have, to take your heart away.
The Bee Gees
Words are the primary means of communications among us humans. By definition, we writers believe in the value of words and count on getting paid for how we put them together.
So why so philosophical? The Democratic governor of Tennessee says presidential candidate Barack Obama should stop “giving big speeches at big stadiums.” He’s not alone in his belief. Words that inspire are under fire in this campaign.
My daughter and I went to see Barack Obama last night in San Francisco. He started slow, but by the end of a thirty-minute speech he had everyone there shouting and clapping in support of his vision of a better America.
Saying a politician is too good with words is like saying a writer is. (You know, that William Shakespeare can sure turn a phrase but what else is he good for?) Words are the tools of a political leader. Without words a politician cannot do great things.
Would the British have stood alone against the most grievous evil the world has ever known without the rhetoric of Winston Churchill? After the fall of France in June 1940, he said:
Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may more forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, "This was their Finest Hour."
Churchill’s speeches were not sufficient to stop Hitler. They didn’t conjure up aircraft, ships, and rifles. But without them, we might well have slid into the abyss. His words inspired the British people to fight long and hard to win.
Politics is indeed the art of the possible. Programs are needed, votes must be traded, and compromises made. But the first step to real change is inspiration, painting a word picture of where we are going and why we are going there. Senator Obama wants us to imagine a country again respected for its moral authority, a country where all children get the opportunity for a first-class education, and a country that does not send our wealth to other countries who misuse it. When he’s done talking, I believe it’s possible. My cynicism after decades of broken promises in Washington diminishes.
It’s no surprise that Senator Obama is a bestselling author. His memoir Dreams from My Father was written well before he started his political career. Writers and politicians are kindred spirits who both use words to accomplish their aims. Bravo!
A version of this posting also appeared on the Inkspot blog.