Belmont Club

The Magic Word

The modern intellectual is perplexed by the simple.  He has a revulsion for the straightforward. So when Mitt Romney declared that in “hope is not a strategy” in a speech on Foreign Policy, Madeleine Albright could not understand what he meant.

“I watched the speech with great interest trying to figure out what Gov. Romney’s policies really are,” said former secretary of State Madeleine Albright, speaking for the Obama campaign. “But I think I’ve come out more confused.”

For all the rhetoric on both sides, the candidates are farther apart in tone than they are on substance, said James McCormick, chairman of the political science department at Iowa State University. For example: Obama uses the word “partnership,” while Romney uses the word “leadership.”

Romney said he shared Obama’s hopes for a “safer, freer and a more prosperous” Middle East allied with the United States. “But hope is not a strategy,” he said.

Dear Ms. Albright, strategy is the art of imposing your will on events,or at least influencing their outcome.  But hope on the other hand is crossing your fingers wishing for the dice will come up in your favor.  That is the difference. Therefore hope is not a strategy. I trust  it is clear.

In Romney’s world bad things happen to those who don’t prepare for them.  When the US Ambassador to Libya wanted more security he wanted it for a reason. “U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens wanted a Security Support Team, made up of 16 special operations soldiers, to stay with him in Libya after their deployment was scheduled to end in August, the commander of that security team told ABC News.”

The reason was that without he might die. And in fact he did.

The former head of security for US installations there said “that in spite of multiple pleas from himself and other U.S. security officials on the ground for ‘more, not less’ security personnel, the State Department removed as many as 34 people from the country in the six months before a terrorist attack in Benghazi that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others.”

Now in Romney’s simplistic world there’s a connection between action and the observable result. You don’t save you wind up poor. You don’t lock the door you wind up burgled. You don’t have security in Libya, you die.

Too simple to understand.

In Obama’s world words, nuances, messages and impressions play a relatively large role.  The administration generates reams of words, often without understanding them itself. After the recent ‘re-election’ of Hugo Chavez to Venezuela the White House issued a statement that was the very model of nuance:

Q: Speaking of foreign policy, can you react to the election results in Venezuela?

MR. CARNEY: The Venezuelan National Elections Commission has declared that President Hugo Chavez won reelection, I believe roughly 54 to 45 percent, with 90 percent reporting. We congratulate the Venezuelan people on the high level of participation, as well as on what was a relatively peaceful election process. I would note the challenger has conceded the race.

Q Do you have anything else to say about Chavez?

MR. CARNEY: Well, we have our differences with President Chavez, but we congratulate the Venezuelan people on a process that included high levels of participation.

Just what did they mean? That the Venezuelan’s should be happy? That’s usually why congratulations are offered. No they couldn’t say that but they had to say something, so they did. There was something vacuous about congratulating the Venezuelans for the mere act of voting and not being shot at  and getting Hugo Chavez for another six years.

Sometimes there are just too many words to understand. Just a few months before the same Jay Carney tried unsuccessfully to decipher what his boss said.  Obama had just remarked that Chavez was no threat to anyone in spite of all he did:

“We’re always concerned about Iran engaging in destabilizing activity around the globe. But overall my sense is that what Mr. Chávez has done over the last several years has not had a serious national security impact on us. We have to be vigilant. My main concern when it comes to Venezuela is having the Venezuelan people have a voice in their affairs, and that you end up ultimately having fair and free elections, which we don’t always see.”

Pressed by reporters to explain what the President said, Carney responded by saying he didn’t know.

REPORTER: “In what way is Hugo Chavez’s government in Venezuela not a serious security threat to the U.S.?”

CARNEY: “You know, I’m going to have to refer you to the State Department on that. I saw that story before I came out, but I didn’t read it. So I don’t know.”

Maybe Obama didn’t know either. But the world was left with the impression of yet another secret Obama insight that was too deep from them to ken.

It is upon his command of wordcraft that President Obama largely predicates his superiority over Mitt Romney.  The greatest orator in the world can stand in easy judgment of the challenger. Campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki could not help but tell reporters aboard Air Force One said about Romney’s cave-man like speech patterns. “This is somebody who leads with chest-pounding rhetoric.” No nuance. Not worthy.

But they don’t get it. Romney seems desperately trying to communicate  that you don’t lead with rhetoric. Actions carry the day. Words are fine, but preparation, activity, and logistics are the key parts of leadership. The President’s job is to make things happen, not talk about them. That’s why he’s the Chief Executive.

It’s a simple message. Unfortunately many intellectuals don’t do simple. The Washington Post is still of the belief that leadership is mostly setting and words. The WaPo wrote of Romney’s recent speech on foreign policy:

Any foreign policy speech delivered by a presidential candidate with less than 30 days to go before the election has one simple goal: To make him or her look like the commander-in-chief.

There is the military setting—in this case, the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Va. There are the flags behind the nominee at the podium. And there is the repeated use of “leadership” or the act of “leading,” as if simply by invoking it the speaker appears more presidential.

It is this kind of thinking that produces styrofoam columns and fake Greek temple props at political rallies.  Real executive leadership is the kind of stuff that Caesar or Lincoln or Reagan once exercised.  They did things and the world changed in consequence.

It is this kind of obsession with nuance and messaging that is at the core of the Obama administration’s failure. Some things are simple. Words are fine, but actions are better. If you don’t have security, al-Qaeda will kill you. That’s so simple, so unnuanced that it may take months for the realization to set in. And when they realize it we’ll have words.


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