Sunday, August 31, 2008


The post I'm writing was triggered by this post from Mark Kleiman. It is a good post, fondly remembering Lyndon Johnson on the 100th anniversary of his birth, which was last Wednesday. Read the post, it is a good reminder that the failure of Vietnam is not LBJ's only legacy and he should be remembered for a whole lot more. On balance history should remember him better than it does, at least to date.

But one thing in the post struck me with regard to one of the Republican talking points about Barak Obama (at least among the class of Republicans who comment on blogs and such). Specifically that Obama gives good speeches, but there is nothing else there. But Mark's post indicates why this criticism of "just giving speeches" does not get much traction. An essential skill a politician needs is to be able to persuade people to do stuff by talking to them, you know, speech. So to quote from Mark's post
But Caro, who started his project of writing LBJ's biography with such a pronounced anti-Johnson bias that he made the segregationist Coke Stevenson the hero of the first volume merely because Johnson had defeated him, does LBJ justice now. He recounts the story of Johnson's "We Shall Overcome" speech to a joint session of Congress, the speech that drove the Voting Rights Act to passage.
Martin Luther King was watching the speech at the home of a family in Selma with some of his aides, none of whom had ever, during all the hard years, seen Dr. King cry. But Lyndon Johnson said, "We shall overcome" - and they saw him cry then.

Making speeches is hardly a trivially important part of the job, and Obama is very good at the task. Also, for those who critique him as one who makes speeches, how many also remember as vital parts of their legacies the speeches of Clinton, or Reagan or Kennedy, or Lincoln, or ... the list goes on.

Now while speech making is a vital part of the job, at which Obama is supremely well qualified, it is not the only part of the job. Among the skills needed are the a steady hand, cool judgement, knowledge of relevant affairs and the ability to pick good people to serve under you. I think on those areas Obama also is, more every day, standing out as the superior candidate.

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