Just words? The case for Newtonian ‘bombast’

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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Remember Barack Obama’s speech pushing back on the notion that all he could do was talk?

In case you’ve forgotten, it went like this:

I have a dream’ ­ just words?

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal‘ ­ just words? ‘

‘We have nothing to fear but fear itself’ ­ just words? Just speeches?

Obama’s contention was correct. Words do matter. As I wrote this June, “Words can summon men to do great things or even inspire a nation.”

Today, a Republican candidate is being criticized for somewhat similar, though not identical, reasons. In this case, it is Newt Gingrich who is accused of being “grandiose” and “bombastic.”

This, of course, is entirely warranted.

But as is often the case in politics, strengths and weaknesses can be double-edged swords. It’s entirely possible that Gingrich’s penchant for dramatic rhetoric might come in handy some dark day in the future.

“Bombast” is speech which is too pompous for the occasion. But what about when the occasion calls for it? At that moment, having someone capable of delivering moving words is vital. And not everyone can deliver them — even if they try.

This is not to say public speaking is a panacea — that all it takes to be successful in politics is to deliver a stemwinder. Ill-timed or inappropriate words do more harm than good. But when the moment is right — when the chips are down — having a leader who can evoke inspiration and summon moral clarity is vitally important.

To be sure, there are valid reasons to worry that Gingrich may lack the discipline to know the difference. On the other hand, it is clear Gingrich could rise to the occasion, should the occasion present itself.

There’s also this point: Nearly every truly great speech — real or fictional — has a dramatic element. Whether one considers it to be “inspirational” or “bombastic” is often in the eye of the beholder. Quite often, lines which go down in history as “great” are not immediately received well at the time of delivery.

So I paraphrase,

Tear down this wall!’ grandiose? … dangerous? … irresponsible?

‘Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour,’ bombastic? … pretentious?

‘Win one for the Gipper,’ cheesy? … lame?

Matt K. Lewis