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The audacity of eloquence

Sam Anderson of New York Magazine, writing on Barack Obama as rhetorician:

The signature project of his candidacy—before health care or housing or Iraq—seems to be the reuniting of presidential discourse with actual, visible thought. It is not a trivial achievement. ... If you can think your way through a sentence, through the algorithms involved in condensing information verbally and pitching it to an audience, through the complexities of animating historical details into narrative, then you can think your way through a policy paper, or a diplomatic discussion, or a 3 A.M. phone call. Bush’s difficulty with basic units of syntax has not been trivial: It signals a wider habit of mind that has extended to every corner of governance. Hillary’s tendency to express herself in distant clichés very likely lost her the nomination—and, one might argue, rightfully so. Style tells us, in a second, what substance couldn’t tell us in a year. It’s silly to downplay the importance of verbal intelligence to a job that makes you the mouthpiece of arguably the most influential nation in the world. As Ezra Pound once wrote, “The mot juste is of public utility … We are governed by words, the laws are graven in words, and literature is the sole means of keeping these words living and accurate.”
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