Ferguson, Obama, and the Pundit Class's Fixation on Speeches

Words are cheap.


This is the top story at The New Republic tonight:

That really is the headline. The article doesn't even call for new legislation (like, say, Rep. Hank Johnson's Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act). It just urges Obama "to use the bully pulpit to steer the national agenda in a positive direction," as though we're sitting around helplessly seeking presidential guidance.

Is there a term for this passion for speeches—this pundit-class faith that it is inspiring words from a paternal figure that drive the engine of social change? How did anyone get such an idea? Did they learn history from a highlights reel? Have they seen too many message-movies that end with soaring monologues? Or do they just dream of someday writing such orations themselves? (I suppose we should be glad at least that TNR didn't run one of those "Dear Mr. President: I took the liberty of writing a speech for you" columns.)

I watched an Obama speech tonight. The cable channels aired it in a split screen with footage from Ferguson, so as the president urged calm I could see a live feed of the country ignoring him. His comments were predictable and bland, but even if he'd given us the most stirring rhetoric of his career I can't imagine that it would have made much difference. This is the news, not The West Wing. Words are cheap.

If someone juxtaposed this deliberately after the fact, we'd be calling it heavy-handed.