A Competent Speech Should Not Stir Presidential Chatter

A Personal Perspective

As we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday this weekend, one is reminded of what a great speaker and human being he was. He used his ability with words and his Christian philosophy to free his people. No one mentioned him as a possible presidential candidate.

But nowadays, every time a famous person gives a cohesive speech or asks a pointed question in a congressional committee hearing, we are ready to crown them president.

When he was running for the U.S. Senate in 2004, Barack Obama addressed the Democratic Convention when John Kerry was the presidential nominee. Sen. Obama (he was still a state senator then) blew us all away with his story and his delivery. That very night, the talking heads proclaimed he would be elected president in eight years. Two years later, Obama was running to succeed Bush for president.

Freshman U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-California) was firm during a Senate Intelligence Committee Hearing in the fall of 2017. She kept interrupting to get more information. She is, after all, a former prosecutor and smart as a whip, so she was in her element. Right away, the pundits were calling for a presidential run for 2020.

Oprah Winfrey gave a mighty speech against sexual misconduct, while accepting the Cecil B. De Mille Award for lifetime achievement at the Golden Globes. The media went nuts. “Oprah 2020” was the rallying cry for the next 24 hours.

After George W. Bush and, now, Donald Trump, some of us are tired of presidents’ inability to speak intelligently.

People appear hungry for someone who can deliver a good speech or effortlessly ask an important question.

But are those the only criteria for president? No! And this is not to say that we don’t want our presidents to mesmerize with the English language. However, Obama was more than a good speaker—he was a deep thinker, constitutional scholar, reader and someone with a genuine ability to empathize. Oprah, from her decades of seeing people at their most vulnerable, is also empathetic and Kamala Harris is no slouch in that area either.

Good speakers are no longer as common as they used to be. The 1960s gave us, among others, JFK, RFK, MLK and Malcolm X. These were dynamic men who transported you to dizzying heights with the power of the spoken word. Donald Trump couldn’t give an intelligent or intelligently delivered speech if his life depended on it.

His speeches are devoid of meaningful content and his base eats it up. “He tells it like it is,” they say. The rest of us are still wondering what it is that he’s telling. Pure rubbish, one might conclude. We have become so shallow that we are easily seduced by a speech.

One of the best speakers who ever lived was King. But no one dared mention him as a possible presidential candidate in his day. Heck, he was fighting for our right to vote, never mind running for president. But if King were alive and just starting out now, he would surely be talked up for president. King, like a poet, presented words “in tuneful order,” and that Southern Baptist cadence didn’t hurt either.

This coming Monday will mark the 89th anniversary of Dr. King’s birth. All African Americans and other people of color in this country and beyond owe him a debt of gratitude. He was not born to be president. His time was too early for that. But he was born to be a leader.

He was born for such a time as his. He came to prepare the way for the Barack Obamas, the Oprah Winfreys and the Kamala Harrises of our era. Oprah, Kamala Harris and all those who have national voices can fight for us right where they are. They don’t have to run for president to do that. Everyone should aspire to speak well.

Speaking well shouldn’t be so rare that anyone who masters it needs to run for president.

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