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The Power of Words Spoken and Written Wisely

November 6, 2008

One of the lost gifts Obama has returned to us is the transformative power of words. With absolute assurance I know that I have not been the only local person moved to tears in recent days by his words, and indeed by the gracious words of John McCain as he rediscovered his true self by the end.

I’ve never met the guy, know really very little about him, but Obama’s words have moved me in the direction of my better instincts, and made me believe that an alternative is possible  to the quotidian reality of a Bush presidency. And that is an amazing thing.

These have been two great political speechs. Actually, two great speeches.

I hope that many a preacher who has grown tired, or cynical, or has come to doubt the power of his or her Sunday by Sunday activity will be inspired by these spoken words. Reinvigorated by the truth that words can change people. Words can alter the tone of a nation and even a world.

And maybe we’ll learn in our fluffy, airy congregational gatherings that words spoken carefully and thoughtfully are critical to our formation. How I long for the people of the Word to be just that. People who are mindful of our words, who measure them carefully rather than scattering them thoughtlessly all around us, in the vain hope that someone might catch a few.

Still though much hard work remains to be done for the new man. The aspiration and hope in his words have been incarnated now in his presidency and the words must be matched by deeds. And for that Obama’s words should be examined and parsed and exegeted for their content. But for the moment I want to bask in the rhythms and cadences of his fine words.

Many over here are cynical about speechmaking. It sometimes appears we are less prone to being moved by rhetoric; perhaps it’s because we have so few, if any, true rhetoricians. And those that we have had have employed their skills in a polemical direction rather than for something more enduringly positive. Nevertheless, I fear poor Gordon Brown will suffer by comparison. And David Cameron’s political future may hang on the success or failure of the next 18 months of Obama’s reign. And as for Peter Robinson, Martin McGuinness or Biffo Cowan….God help us!

Anyway, I’m loving this. And for absolutely the finest opinion piece yet on the events of recent days, look no further than Fintan O Toole in today’s Irish Times. Magnificent analysis and wonderful writing.

  1. Beautiful.

    Check out what Obama will do for the Arts:

    We did it.

    Yes we did.

  2. Couldn’t agree more! Hopefully in a couple of years we’ll have collections of presidential speeches to read rather than the numerous collections of presidential malapropisms that have sold so well in recent years!!

    Not sure if you’ve read the excellent NYT profile of Jon Favreau, Obama’s 26 (yes, 26!) year old speech writer. What a job! Worth a read see:

  3. >>Reinvigorated by the truth that words can change people. Words can alter the tone of a nation and even a world.

    certainly can, look at Hitler

  4. Marti permalink

    My favourite Obama t-shirt so far…

    Rosa sat….

    Martin walked…

    Obama Ran.

    … that says it all really – what a progression in 4 decades or so!

    I still can’t watch clips of his speech without choking up! This must be what it felt like to be around when JFK and MLK were doing their thing! I stayed up to watch the coverage – and it was worth the lack of sleep (who am I kidding – I have 4 kids – what’s sleep?)

  5. Maybe we’ll see the emergence of a new era of politics where good, cogent, gracious argument has its place. Where people are judged by the content of character rather than the size of their paraphrase another preacher. And alongside that maybe a new place for the arts…now that would be something.

    But we’re looking wise words qmonkey, not dangerous demented words, though yours is a reminder to be discerning.

  6. i know.. just being … well maybe a wee bit flippant. It’s sometimes easy to scoff at those yankees who almost seem to fear people with ‘smarts’ (i’ll be at the head of that scoffing queue) but their rationale is that will cleverness and ‘a way with words’ comes manipulation. Not trying to burst any Barak bubbles but i worry that good oratory is seen as an end in it self… whereas its only a tool. (not that i doubt obama at all, i must say)

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