Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Power of Honesty

This will be my one open sales pitch for Barack Obama -- a link to video of the speech he gave today:

I'm concerned that most people will only hear it second-hand, from commentators or carefully chosen clips shown on TV. It's really best to see it as it actually is.

When Obama said that he'd be giving a speech on race in America and in this campaign I thought that what he would need to do is just be honest. And I think that is what he does here.

While some of my reasons for supporting him are specific and rather narrow policy points, I have to admit that certainly his "speechifying" has a fair bit to do with it as well. But I think it's cynical to attribute the power of a speech, or any writing, to being the mere ability to organize words in such a way as to create emotional affect.

I know from my own writing that often my first stab at a key emotional scene or bit of dialog fails -- that I put together clever words in carefully constructed artifice -- and it sounds like tin. When I go back and manage to remember that the key to this isn't pretty words, but honest expressions of what the character would do or feel -- that's when the writing truly works. And maybe I can include a few pretty words anyway. What's amazing is just how HARD and infrequent it is that one does manage to write honest, instead of just write well.

I see talking heads on TV discuss and dismiss Obama's ability to put together good speeches -- and I think that this is symptomatic of their own problems. That language for them has become so detached from meaning that they no longer even comprehend the fact that hollow talk sounds hollow and that writing, or art, or speeches only truly touch you when they've said something honest.

We don't remember the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address, or I Have a Dream because Jefferson, Lincoln, and King sure did talk pretty. We remember them because they were not only honest, but expressed deep truths.

And I don't want to say here that Obama is necessarily one of those guys, or that this speech is in their realm -- but I definitely believe that it's honest and expresses some real truths.

1 comment:

Jaime_sama said...

Steve, thanks for linking to this. I hadn't heard the whole speech. It's sadly rare to hear a politician take on something complicated and difficult, and allow it to be complicated, instead of trying to oversimplify and cover over the deep problems. I was really impressed with the thoughtfulness and substance of the speech. I agree with you, way more than just pretty words there...