What concerns me is that this will become the new business model for successful major campaigns–to the detriment of our election system. First, articulate a vision in the most vacuous possible generalities, of “hope” and “change” or growth, renewal, rebirth, or whatever metaphors and ideals the moment apparently requires. Then, when pressed for specifics (which will happen rarely for a Democrat, constantly for a Republican), speak in terms of both-this-and-that, or neither-this-nor-that language. We must defend ourselves at the same time as we honor the values that have made America a beacon of justice and freedom around the world; we should neither alienate Russia nor permit it to act in an irresponsible manner, etc. Then, when those on the other side object that you are not giving genuine specifics, criticize them for engaging in the old politics of partisan sniping, and portray them as old curmudgeons missing out on the wonderful new movement. “What they fail to understand is that this movement is not about me, it’s about you,” and all that blather.
The assumption of many, early in the campaign, seemed to be that Obama would eventually have to offer details. Surely he could not sustain an entire campaign on the fumes of such gaseous rhetoric? Well, Obama had a lot of gas, so to speak, or a lot of fumes to keep him going, and he’s sustained his progress with airy unicorns-in-the-sky rhetoric not only through the primary election, not only through the general election, but even through the transition and now the inauguration.
Is this good for our democracy? Aren’t we better off when politicians speak eloquently not only of lofty ideals but also of concrete action plans? Aren’t we better off when we know the exact stances our candidate would take–whether he will stand with Russia or with Georgia and Poland, for instance, and how exactly he will stand with Poland, whether he will defend the missile shield, and so forth? Obama has remained a fill-in-the-blank space. Call him the Mad-Lib President. His words are so lacking in substance that one can fill in the blanks with whatever promises one suspects Obama is offering. America will be worse off if more American politicians follow Obama’s example.
Honestly, I hear everyone praising his speech-writer, and sometimes Favreau deserves it. But often I feel as though these are the sorts of speeches I might have written as a college student–and then later I would have been embarrassed that I had written such naive fluff.