I’m dispensing with a fancy introduction to my blog because what could be more dreary? I’ll say only that my cryptic title has something to do with William Carlos Williams’ useful notion of "no ideas but in things" and that my favorite things are the Red Wing boots that I wear year-round, which I call my "writing boots." Enough.
Regarding Obama, the first thing you might say if you’re a writer or a communicator type or a Hillary fan or a Republican is that his presumptive nomination—and his rise to it, on the strength of a speech delivered four years ago at a convention and dozens of speeches delivered since—shows the power of words and of speeches.
On the face of it, Hillary Clinton brought three decades of public service to the table, Obama brought some speeches, and the speeches won.
But that take gives credit to the words that the words don’t deserve. Think of the other, much more relevant traits of Obama’s, that made the words work:
• He seems calm. There’s a placidity to him that allows him to pause before saying something stupid, gives him the patience to wait until he has something smart to say. My mother used to advise me to "wear the world like a loose garment." Unlike me, Obama has that quality.
• He seems to know himself pretty well. Being an ethical politician does not mean saying exactly what’s on your mind at all times. It means knowing what’s on your mind, so you can say it when the time is right. Obama does seem to know what he thinks.
• He has courage. Don’t think so? I’d like to see you try to deliver a speech on the rather unoriginal theme of "yes, we can"—even if it is to a throng of worshipful supporters. You know darn well that a zillion pundits and bloggers are going to dismiss you and your simple-minded message. And you deliver it anyway, because you believe it’s going to work.
That’s the formula to be a great politician, a charismatic executive "thought leader," a great columnist, an interesting blogger: If you don’t have some combination of calm, self-knowledge and courage, ain’t no fancy words gonna work magic on any audience over any length of time.