Contrary to what we were told in grade school, readers are not always leaders. We have a President who is a great reader – charismatic, confident, catchphrasey (Hope! Change! What are we hoping gets changed? And how do you act on that hope to build a better future? No good liberal media wonk dared ask these questions to the Dalai Bama). But somehow, we were all surprised when Obama’s many promises turned out to be 1) actually terrible ideas, 2) hollow, or 3) both.
We expected him to stand by his words…but, like so many politicians before him, he was speaking a speechwriter’s words, not his own. We should not have trusted a man to run the country who didn’t trust the electorate enough to articulate his true values.
During the last presidential election, we watched this America become that one friend we all have – the serial dater. Unlike our serial dating friend, however, America is required to go through the “dating” process once every four years. It’s a vicious (election) cycle: She deserves a great guy (president), and could totally get one (there are good candidates out there…somewhere), but is so afraid and insecure after a difficult time (Dubya…who seemed cool at first and then totally betrayed her) that she goes for the first smooth talker she can find (Obama), who ends up hurting her in the long run (See: ObamaCare, the Auto takeover, the non-stimulating “stimulus” and the debt spiral).
Like our serial dating friends – this country tries really, REALLY hard. (See: If you want to know what our GOP candidates are up to, wait fifteen minutes and I bet they’ll be debating again.)
What do we all wish we had the nerve to tell this friend of ours? “If you don’t want this to happen again, you have to raise your standards. And you should.”
There is a great conversation to be had about what those standards should be – but I suggest we start small (because America is feeling, like, really vulnerable right now). Let’s start with having Presidents, and presidential candidates, use their own words.
The last president to write his own speeches was Calvin Coolidge. Not exactly remembered for his charismatic style or good looks, but also not remembered for having traveled to all 57 states or comparing himself to a serial killer clown. Or for forgetting the name of the EPA, for that matter.
All these gaffe-tastic folks we have on the national stage today got there by reading other people’s words. Consultants, speechwriters, advisors, and so on…they write everything from the State of the Union to a toast at a party (even speechwriters themselves have remarked on how their services are used for minor, inconsequential events). If linebacker Mike Singletary – whose entire job description was “Ram your body into other people” – can give an off-the-cuff speech all by his lonesome and bring people to tears as he makes the case for traditional values, I think that GOP candidates should at least be able to speak candidly about what they believe in.
If we are going to trust someone to write a law, or a treaty, or an executive order, we better be able to get a sense of what we’re voting for (or not voting for) by having these people write their own speeches. This is not because I have something against the young people who express big ideas in their roles as speechwriters (young people saying what they think? Yeah, we tend to like those around here) – but I do have something against anyone who thinks they are somehow qualified to lead a nation but not to speak for themselves.
There is a difference between collaborating with another person, and having another person chew up your thoughts and spit them out into what you hope are more appealing words. For instance – when Jefferson wrote “We the People,” he may have had Madison’s help – but he didn’t have Madison Avenue’s. There is an ethical reason to demand that our leaders write their own speeches. Taking someone else’s work and passing it off as your own is academically dishonest. It discredits you as a thinker (unless, of course, you’re Joe Biden, in which case just wait a few years and you get a free pass). Think of it this way: If we set the standards any lower, we would have officials and candidates just moving their mouths along to a recorded tape of someone else giving the speech.
Oh, look who’d be qualified to run the country then. Simpson/Spears 2016!
I don’t know how we enforce this- the only people who could write a law against speechwriters are the same people who employ speech writers. It aint’ gonna happen. That is, until the entire country gets fed up with phoniness and vows only to vote for candidates who somehow prove that they are speaking their own words, and their own beliefs, plain and honest minus the bells and whistles that consultants are paid to provide. Things will probably have to get worse before the electorate as a whole decides that we have to vote until things get better.
This weekend, we celebrated, as a nation, a day of remembrance in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. MLK stood for a lot of things – but to students like myself, who know him not through the evening news but through the rich speech transcripts we waded through in high school English classes, MLK was a talented leader, writer, and speaker. I believe that legendary American leaders are not a thing of the past – there are still plenty of great Americans out there who stand strong in their values and can articulate them…in their own words. Maybe next time, some of those great Americans will rise to the top of the GOP field. But for that to happen…we have to raise our standards.