Behold the lesson from the ones who are most remembered. To be an exceptional leader, you have to be an exceptional communicator. That’s the Lincoln lesson, the Roosevelt lesson, the Kennedy lesson, the Reagan lesson and the Trudeau lesson.
And today, U.S. inauguration day, it will be the Barack Obama lesson: A country can be moved as much by words as by deeds.
Obama may not change the policy direction of the United States to the large degree many hoped. In recent weeks, he has sounded increasingly moderate and mainstream. He appears to be seeking consensus rather than radical change.
His appointments are predominantly centrist types. His anti-war talk has dimmed. He’s been all smiles around George W. Bush. He even declined an opportunity to repudiate the vile Dick Cheney.
But he’s proving something that leaders in Canada, where eloquence has been lacking for so long, have been slow to grasp. It’s about inspiration. A national leader’s role is not to be one of the boys. It is to project something higher than the mundane. It is to uplift the country’s conscience.
George Junior’s frat boy talk was hardly suited for the greatest power on earth. Sarah Palin’s low-brow “you betcha” schtick was OK at a pizza banquet for the local hockey team. But for a leader of the western world, forget it. Take a hike George, Sarah, Dick and y’all. Visit a dictionary. Look up eloquence. And listen to Barack Obama today.
His historic oration hopefully will mark a turning away from a chapter in American history when it’s been cool to be dense, when if you were seeking political office you were advised to hide your Ivy League education. It’s been a period — frequently referred to as the dumbing-down era — when to be erudite was decried as being elitist.
John F. Kennedy isn’t remembered so much for what he did as for the style and the inspiration he brought. In the case of Pierre Trudeau, it’s much the same. Each leader was seen as standing up for something higher. Each leader had his share of deficiencies, but Kennedy revitalized his country and so did, at least in his early years at the helm, Trudeau.
They weren’t chasing after the lowest common denominator. They weren’t mingling religion with politics. They weren’t preying on people’s base instincts.
That’s the way down. Today, as the United States brings forward a beacon of inspiration, it’s on the way to reversing that spiral.
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