Sunday, February 03, 2008

Rhetoric v. Reality 

Super Tuesday primary elections are coming this week. I vote in the Democratic party, but I'm not enamored with either candidate. It's going to be a tough decision at the polling booth.

One deep concern is that voters might be misdirected by soaring words and vague concepts of the brotherhood of man. There is a gulf between words and deeds. This has been true since the beginning of communications thousands of years ago. I'm reading (or re-reading, I don't remember) Tolstoy's War and Peace in a wonderful translation. Tolstoy portrays the same distance between those who do and whose who talk. I saw a quote this morning that compared Cicero's eloquent orations with Caesar's simplicity. The jist of it was that Romans listened to Cicero but marched for Caesar.

I don't know the capacity for either Democratic candidate to get things done should he or she win the presidency. That's part of my problem. But, the lure of high-sounding rhetoric worries me. John F. Kennedy was a wonderful orator. The record shows he wasn't much of president. On the other hand, Lincoln was both a magnificent speaker and astute political player, although he was unskilled in the ways of Washington. However, as one historian pointed out, Lincoln was unique as was Washington. America has not and will not find such leaders often.

Great leadership is rare. Most presidents in US history have been undistinguished. Some whom we hold in high esteem were, in fact, wreckers, such as Andrew Jackson who spun the US economy into uncertainty for decades after he got rid of the Bank of the United States. Others like Teddy Roosevelt had a record of an unjustified war against Spain that is a black mark on US history. I have no expectations that any candidate from either party will rise to greatness. But, one can be surprised.

It is easier to throw darts at a board than to vote.


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