Obama speaks Cicero

Having written speeches for myself and others, I found this piece interesting: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/nov/26/barack-obama-usa1


Very interesting article. The art of the oratory is something I have too little practical knowledge of; though I knew the terms and ideas behind them (sometimes more intuitively), it was informative to have these applied to a modern example like this; something I would not readily be able to do on my own. I do hope this becomes a marked transition in U.S. culture away from the distrust of intelligence and eloquence. A fear which has been arguably cultivated and definitely nurtured by certain elements of the political system. This is a problem that goes very deep, well past politics, and into the very generative capabilities of a society. I think the author is right on to the essential aspect in that politics derived by complex and elegant forms of thought, originating from the minds of leaders, will degenerate less easily than politics derived simply by allowing all too heavily the influence of the masses to generate decisions. Surely, things can go afoul much faster with fewer in control, but they needn’t (and in most cases they do not), though I see evidenced nowhere a society controlled entirely without a “head” that can do nought but inexorably sink under its own weight.

Something I find common in all politicians is that as they campaign they promise you everything and make you feel good about their promised change.

Then if they are elected they promise you that many of their campaign promises cannot be achieved at this time but they will still attempt to make the changes they promised you during the campaign.

After awhile the change is not as grand or really not amounted to much change at all. Mainly it remains as a steady as it goes same old story. The story where the politicians work hard to benefit the most and where the public is asked to sacrifice more everyday in order to appeased what the politicians feel would better further their career.

Politicians in my opinion area all very good at “speaking”. To me what makes a really good political leader is one that can actually deliver on many of their promises in a straightforward and honest manner instead of speaking eloquently for campaign interests and then actually failing to lead when the time for talking is over.

A fun experiment is to right down all the promises and time frames a politician makes during a campaign and then if they win go back and write down how many of those promises they actually delivered on or what reasons they give for why they cannot deliver on those promises now that they have been elected.

In summary politicians are very good at talking the talk but very slippery when it comes time to actually walk the walk.


Wock, we covered this ground in earlier posts. I come from a family with a long history of public service. It’s very easy to take cheap shots at “politicians” when you’re not holding an office and responding to all of its pressures. You’re entitled to your opinions, but I hope you back them up with genuine service to various public causes. I would prefer that you lay off the generalizing about political rhetoric and action. You are far more qualified on many other subjects, including turkey feasting.


Maybe you can explain something to me (and I am sorry if this seems nit-picky, but it isn’t). It seems to me that when folks are running for office they make a large number of “promises” that are outside their sphere of action. Example: presidents are executives, not legislatives and hence can not implement legislation, only influence it via party and public pressure. The same is true of local politicians (in my case the mayor) and when “confronted” with this the result to date has been to either ignore the question (as the executive how do you propose to implement) or to redirect.

While I have only been paying attention the last 16 years or so (I am not that old) it seems to me that this is more prevalent today than when Clinton first ran. I guess what I am asking is: am I missing some fundamental piece of information or ARE politicians making more promises outside their sphere these days than they did 16 years ago?

[size=75]BTW I see this with both parties and felt that McCain was well beyond “executive power” with many of his promises.[/size]


It is not that I am taking cheap shots at really. I guess I sound very cynical but what I was attempting to point out was that in politics from local to national during an election year and during a campaign we are told many things. Many things that sound great but in the end just aren’t that easy to accomplish or are in reality unrealistic in the expectations or time frame to accomplish those goals.

Look around and ask this honest question. Have you ever seen any political figure accomplish every single thing they promised in the time frame they said they would after they were elected? I personally haven’t. It is not a cheap shot. It is a reality. It is politics. Politics are very much like marketing.

When you watch a commercial for a product they present things in one light. Once you buy the product the truth is a little more disappointing. It is not that the product is bad but rather it was marketed to such a high level that the reality of the product can sometimes be a tad disappointing. Politicians are marketed during a campaign year with very high expectations and promises or claims just like marketing a product because that is exactly what they are doing, marketing themselves. Now sometimes the public can get caught up in the marketing dream and start blowing things out of proportion and actually have expectations higher than anything that is realistic.

Take Obama for example. I truly feel sorry for the man. Why? Well many people in the public have this blown out proportion of the expectations of him as a leader. They think comes Jan 20 all of their problems will be solved overnight. And the worst part is it is the media and the public that have blown him out of proportion. The reality is no person on the planet could do the job people are expecting him to do in the short time frame they expect. It is unrealistic. That is politics.

Either a political figure can promise high expectations or the public assumes high expectations but in the end the reality is it takes a lot of hard work which is scrutinized closely. The sad thing is if one does well in politics it mainly goes unnoticed. If one makes even the smallest mistake well then they are crucified. Or if the public has unrealistic expectations that no one can accomplish they turn first to those they themselves elected and blame them for things they could not control.

But it does occur. Because that is politics plain and simple. THere is no politician that has existed that has delivered every promise in the time frame they gave themselves just like there is no product that has ever lived up to its fully marketed expectations.

You have what sells then you have what is the reality.

And druid I do give a public service everyday of my life. If it wasn’t for what I do many politicians from the local level all the way to the national level would never get elected. I do apologize if it appeared that I am taking a cheap shot at politicians. I was just commenting on a section of politics that I feel is misleading.

I cant see anything contentious in wocks pronouncements. I agree wholeheartedly with most of the sentiments he`s expressed.

Ask folk to account for voter apathy. One invariably encounters the the old adage, 'Theyre all as [i]bad[/i] as each other." Never, 'Ones as good as the other. That, that opinion hold sway with an awful lot of potential voters, is undeniable.

This thread is devoted to the science of Oratory, and its power of persuasion, be it for good or ill.
On one occasion, on camera, when asked what his take on a certain issue was, McCain looked bewildered, then turned to a young female member of his entourage and asked, “What is my stance on this.” I watched this and thought what a simple but effective indication of just what any election campaign really seeks to achieve: the triumph of presentation over content.

I believe it important that that the words uttered by any candidate be a true reflection of their own beliefs, in as near as damn it, their own words, and not just tarted up party line. I could be wrong, but I think it to be widely accepted that, with Obama, that`s pretty much the case, and WYSIWYG. But in the real world, how many candidate would be allowed to tell it like it is, if it went contrary to what their party machine, and its upper echelons demanded.

I wonder what the consensus of opinion, amongst Republicans, would be, if asked to consider seriously, in their hearts, the choice of Bush or Obama for the next four years.

I think it patently obvious Obama was elected because folk believed in him and placed their trust in him, no doubt, to a great extent, convinced by his oratorical skills.

Where I disagree with wock, is in his belief that Joe Public is fooled by media hype. I believe Joe is as cynical about the Media, as he is about politicians. No amount of oratorical brilliance can disguise the struggle facing the World. In the cold light of reason, Media mass hysteria, pretty soon evaporates, the Arctic chill of reality has seen to that. Theres no room for the arrogant self-severs and war mongers, when confronting the struggles facing us. Theyre the ones who`ve dropped us in this shit.

Joe hopes for a lot from Obama, but not miracles, I suspect. I think he believes Obama will give it his best shot.
Bush or Obama? If I was a Republican, I know who Id choose! But its got nothing to do with oratorical dexterity.
Take care

I feel jammed here by the forum’s two Ciceronians, masters of the long form, while my hero is Horace, who said to make expression dulce et utile, sweet and short.

I don’t like generalizations, like “Something I find common in all politicians,” because it’s just wind and has no factual evidence for support. OK, it’s an opinion and we’re not in a court of law here. But I think it’s lazy thinking and amounts to (gasp) a prejudice.

Why do people running for office make promises? Why does advertising so constantly lie? In part the problem may lie with the audience: do we really want the unvarnished truth? No, we’d rather have hope and dreams. And the latest gadget on sale, even if some poor doorman is in our way.

Jaysen has a valid point, that candidates often speak beyond their jurisdiction. In that forum before the evangelicals, McCain said life begins at conception. Obama said the question was above his pay grade. Advantage McCain, because people want to hear answers that flatter their convictions.

When Obama tried to go the course of hope and inspiration, his opponents and the media screamed for specifics. So he gave them lots of eight-point plans. None of it was lies, just “it would be nice” kind of statements. Then a little matter of global recession came along.

At this point, I care less if he can keep his “promises” than whether he can help us avoid a depression, with 25% unemployed. I have a feeling that he will. I think he may be a great figure in history, one who inspires but also governs with a calm and pragmatic approach. I would hope that we give him space and time to bring change. It won’t be magic, and as he often says, change will take lots of sacrifice and generosity on our part to make a difference.

In that spirit, and of the holiday season, I hereby apologize to Wock and Vic for any aspersions I have cast upon their honor, wit, brains, or acumen during this past year. There’s always 2009! :smiling_imp:

Are they required to “have” something before you can “cast upon” it?

I think you are safe.

Now the first politician that promises me Free Beer I will vote as many times as I illegally can for him/her.

Just listen to that.


I get all warm and fuzzy inside just thinking about it.

You know when you are drunk and among friends we always come up with all the solutions to the world’s problems. Sobering up we forget all of those solutions.

I say we take all of the world’s leaders, all the people at the UN, and throw in some southern PTA members and lock them in a room with ashtrays, unlimited beer and pencil and paper. (If they remain polite toss them some Funyun’s, Pork Rinds, and Cheesey Tater Tots).

Then tell them want some honest down to Earth solutions.

Then we televise it on Pay Per View and charge $49.99!

I know I know the cost of the Funyun’s would be cost prohibitive but I think for World Peace we could manage.

Think about it. A World Peace Initiative based on the premise that “grabbing a beer” with your friends ends up with some good old honest and care free discussion free of judgement and free of responsibility. Just some good ol’ jaw yapping and funnin amongst friends.

PS: Druid in 2009 I will just bring you some good old shine and get you all liquored up. (Jaysen will of course drink most of it because he already has his born and bred tolerance for good ol shine) And I bet Vic-k will have a wooden leg full of his Green Absinthe. It will be a great time none of us will remember but we will have the hangovers to prove to the world that YES that night we came up with solutions for every single problem faced in modern times (like operating those child safety disposable lighter without tearing your thumbs to shreds).

(burp) I can’t wait.

It’s a fair point, but I think there are two possible answers.

The first is that in the US, at least, the executive has a great deal of power. A pro-conservation Department of Interior would be expected to implement very different regulations than a pro-resource exploitation one, regardless of what the underlying legislation says. Legislation, by its nature, tends to speak in generalities. So the executive’s view can, in many cases, have the force of law. That’s especially true at the margins, where the question is one of degree (how many snowmobiles to allow in Yellowstone?) rather than a binary decision (what modes of transportation are allowed in national parks?).

The second is that working with Congress is a critical part of the president’s job. Whether he personally writes the legislation or not, he can’t be effective unless he can get his priorities passed. So while a promise might be technically outside his sphere of action, it’s still reasonable to expect him to keep it, and to judge him harshly if he can’t. That’s especially true when a president has a large electoral mandate and a congressional majority, as Obama will, but it’s still true when a president faces a hostile congress. If he can’t keep his promises in that environment, he shouldn’t have made them.


We did just elect a president who speaks in paragraphs, rather than sound bites. It’s quite refreshing.

The Internet helps. It makes it much easier for those who are so inclined to find long-form discussions of the issues they care about, and to share what they find with their friends.


During the elections in November 2008, I was at a dinner table during discussions like this.

I dinged my glass for attention. I stood up. And I gave a ringing speech. I am theater trained and know how to use my voice when I want to. I sat down. Everyone clapped and said repeatedly, “if we only had a President who spoke like that.” I kept quite and let people start ripping into George W. Bush.

After ten minutes, I stood up and said, “that, ladies & Gentlemen, was George W. Bush, 2007.”

Two questions.

  1. You memorized a G W Bush speech?

  2. Theater-trained, you do recognize the importance of “performance,” don’t you?


nope - just a paragraph.

yeah, that’s the point, right? 8)

Anyone who thinks that Obama’s speeches are even remotely “Ciceronian” either hasn’t spent much time with Cicero, or hasn’t actually read Obama’s speeches, and is - therefore & perhaps - responding instead to Mr. Obama’s performance.