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He Gives Good Speech - That's Not Enough?

10/29/2008 05:12 am 05:12:02 | Updated May 25, 2011

One of the primary Republican attacks against Barack Obama has been that there's not much more to him than being a good speech maker. They're wrong. But, what if there was nothing else to go on? What if all we knew was that he was a good speaker? Would that be so bad?

Think of the greatest presidents in history. Who would be on your list? Here's mine - George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy. Republicans would add Ronald Reagan. Democrats might add Bill Clinton.

Do any of these lines sound familiar? They all come from the list above. "That government is best which governs the least." "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." "You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time." "Speak softly and carry a big stick." "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." "There is nothing wrong in America that can't be fixed with what is right in America." "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." "With malice toward none, with charity toward all."

The president's job is to lead. Can anyone argue that great speech making goes hand in hand with being a great leader? How can one lead if they cannot communicate a positive message and inspire the citizens? With his speeches, the president sets the tone of his presidency and with that, the hopes of the nation.

George Washington, our first president and the only president who's ever been elected with a unanimous electoral vote, was a great speaker who first inspired the colonists to believe the United States was even a possibility and later insured that the fragile early nation would succeed. The words of Thomas Jefferson created the very foundation of this country. Abraham Lincoln inspired our nation and held it together at its most vulnerable time. Teddy Roosevelt set America on its course as it entered the century that would see its growth into a dominant superpower.

John Kennedy was in office less than 3 years. He didn't have the time to do much. His presidency was marred by a failed invasion of Cuba. Yet he is remembered by most historians as a great president. He inspired Americans with "ask not what your country can do for you" and he inspired the entire world with "Ich bin ein Berliner." He set us on a course to the future and inspired a technological explosion with "We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard."

By comparison, our current president wanted to lay the blame of the dotcom bubble at the feet of his predecessor, so he began his first term by telling us that we were already in a recession. Inspiring. He spent the better part of the next 8 years telling us that there were boogeymen around every corner. This week Mr. Bush told us the economic sky was falling. Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin suggested we could be headed for another Great Depression. But the man who got us out of the actual Great Depression, Franklin Roosevelt, faced it, not with fear, but with a call for courage. We have nothing to fear but fear itself!

Similarly, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt rallied the nation on that "date that will live in infamy" and in less than a year we had begun to turn the tide of the war.

If anything, the presidency of George W. Bush should demonstrate what a man without any ideas sounds like. The comparison of his 8 years in office with the 8 years Bill Clinton spent in office draw a stark contrast. Even the people who didn't like Bill Clinton or his policies have to admit that he was a great speaker and the nation prospered under his leadership. Again, he inspired, he set the tone. And that's what a great leader does. The fact that Barack Obama is a great speaker is not a weakness. It's an indication that he just may be that great leader we are looking for.