Monday, February 11, 2008

A lost art

I am one who mourns the loss of public speech as an art form. I cannot attest to the rousing recitations of days past by such masters as John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Pierre Trudeau, and others as they were before my time. But apparently there was a time where leaders were elected not by how many dollars they promised to the electorate but by how much hope they inspired in those voting for them. I sometimes find it hard to believe, but do long for such a time to return.

Roy MacGregor, one of the best Globe and Mail columnists, reports that Ed Stelmach, the incumbent Alberta premier aiming to maintain his party's 37 year rule in an upcoming election, can "pull boredom out of thin air". You can call Honest Ed a lot of things, but charismatic he is not and inspire a crowd he cannot. And then there is Stephen Harper, the Canadian prime minister who, besides being a control freak couldn't speak his way out of a wet paper bag. And the misery doesn't stop at those in power. St├ęphane Dion, the federal Liberal party leader is barely functional in one official language and I have been told he is not much more inspiring in his mother tongue.

But you move down south and you have emerging a new movement that treats intelligent discourse and inspiring oration as noble pursuits. I think it all started for me when I saw Keith Olbermann lambaste George W. Bush on national television. Then I read about Intelligence Squared US, a series of public debates broadcast on National Public Radio that deals with major issues and pits those for and against each motion in a sophisticated debate style taken from the Oxford Union.

And then you have the new guy: Barack Obama. He has inspired comparisons to JFK. His relative youth and inexperience has more or less been forgotten by the American electorate due to his ability to speak publicly and uplift all those listening. He has not only brought back public speaking as an art form (even going so far as to resurrect soapbox style town halls) but he has given Americans reason to hope and redefined the American Dream in modern terms. His speaking ability is so profound that many Americans have decided not to closely analyze some of his policy stances, for good or bad.

As Rick Mercer stated, the inspiring nature of Barack's speaking style has gotten young people involved in the chaotic and disastrous process that is the American presidential primary system. Here in Canada, with its relatively simple electoral process, young people have all but checked out. And I cannot blame them. Have you seen what is up on offer of late? I can only hope that soon a gifted speaker will emerge on the Canadian political scene and bring this lost art back north of the 49th. Maybe then my peers will find reason to get involved in the democratic process. Here's hoping Rex Murphy will decide to run for PM. Go Rex!

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