Words fail them

Columnist Arthur Black laments the lost art of the great political oratory of decades past

“I’m the commander — see, I don’t need to explain — I don’t need to explain why I say things. That’s the interesting thing about being president.”

— George Bush in George Bush at War, by Bob Woodward

 

Whatever happened to oratory? There was a time when public figures could spellbind a crowd with their words — no slide shows, no Power Point presentations, no musical soundtrack — just the power of their spoken thoughts.

In 1864, Abraham Lincoln spoke for a little over two minutes at a cemetery in Pennsylvania from notes scrawled on an envelope. The Gettysburg Address is a viscerally pungent work of aural art that schoolchildren still learn by heart today.

 

“See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda.”

— George W. Bush, May 24, 2005

 

The truth is, public oratory has been declining for a long time, and not just south of the border. Can you recall anything that Stephen Harper has said? About anything? Ever?

The Harper Policy is the same as the Dubya Dictum: keep it Pablum simple and repeat ad nauseam.

By contrast, in 1940 a dumpy, balding old guy with a lisp stood up in the British House of Commons and said:

“I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask what is our policy. I can say: it is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy.

“You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory.  Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, no matter how long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.”

“Let that be realized; no survival for the British Empire, no survival for all that the British Empire has stood for, no survival for the urge and impulse of the ages, that mankind will move forward towards its goal. But I take up my task with buoyancy and hope. I feel sure that our cause will not be suffered to fail among men.”

The speaker was Winston Churchill. It was his first address as Prime Minister of Great Britain.

One would think that clear, honest, forthright talk is the least our leaders could give us, but that’s not what works.

Another politician once said: “In the long run, basic results in influencing public opinion will be achieved only by the man who is able to reduce problems to the simplest terms and who has the courage to keep forever repeating them in this simplified form, despite the objections of intellectuals.”

The minister in charge of Nazi propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, said that.

— Arthur Black’s column appears every Tuesday in The NEWS. He can be reached at: arblack43@shaw.ca.

Just Posted

A Lotto 6/49 ticket purchased in Parksville for the June 19, 2021 draw is a $3M winner. (Submitted photo)
Winning Lotto 6/49 ticket worth $3M purchased in Parksville

Lottery prize winners have 52 weeks to claim jackpot

Map of the site of a proposed 60-unit building project in French Creek. (RDN map)
Legal counsel wants board to award development permit for French Creek project

Issue is on agenda for RDN board meeting on June 22

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

FILE – Most lanes remain closed at the Peace Arch border crossing into the U.S. from Canada, where the shared border has been closed for nonessential travel in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Thursday, May 7, 2020, in Blaine, Wash. The restrictions at the border took effect March 21, while allowing trade and other travel deemed essential to continue. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Feds to issue update on border measures for fully vaccinated Canadians, permanent residents

Border with U.S. to remain closed to most until at least July 21

A portion of the George Road wildfire burns near Lytton, B.C. in this Friday, June 18, 2021 handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, BC Wildfire Service *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Blaze near Lytton spread across steep terrain, says BC Wildfire Service

Fire began Wednesday and is suspected to be human-caused, but remains under investigation

Blair Lebsack, owner of RGE RD restaurant, poses for a portrait in the dining room, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. Canadian restaurants are having to find ways to deal with the rising cost of food. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Canadian restaurateurs grapple with rising food costs, menu prices expected to rise

Restaurants are a low margin industry, so there’s not a lot of room to work in additional costs

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
Fort St. John man arrested after allegedly inviting sexual touching from children

Two children reported the incident to a trusted adult right away

Barbara Violo, pharmacist and owner of The Junction Chemist Pharmacy, draws up a dose behind vials of both Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines on the counter, in Toronto, Friday, June 18, 2021. An independent vaccine tracker website founded by a University of Saskatchewan student says just over 20 per cent of eligible Canadians — those 12 years old and above — are now fully vaccinated. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
At least 20% of eligible Canadians fully vaccinated, 75% with one dose: data

Earlier projections for reopening at this milestone didn’t include Delta variant

This undated file photo provided by Ernie Carswell & Partners shows the home featured in the opening and closing scenes of The Brady Bunch in Los Angeles. Do you know the occupation of Mike Brady, the father in this show about a blended family? (Anthony Barcelo/Ernie Carswell & Partners via AP, File)
QUIZ: A celebration of dad on Father’s Day

How much do you know about famous fathers?

Emily Steele holds up a collage of her son, 16-year-old Elijah-Iain Beauregard who was stabbed and killed in June 2019, outside of Kelowna Law Courts on June 18. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
Kelowna woman who fatally stabbed teen facing up to 1.5 years of jail time

Her jail sentence would be followed by an additional one to 1.5 years of supervision

Most Read