Why Journalists Loved Obama and Hate Trump (Hint: Those Glorious Words!)
Writers love words. Journalists love words. We spend our professional lives typing them out, shifting them around, cutting and pasting and refining. The reason we do so is that we feel we have something to say, and we keep trying to find a clearer, stronger, and more precise way of expressing exactly what we want to express.
This was one reason journalists loved Obama. Like a very small number of political leaders throughout human history, from Marcus Aurelius to Abraham Lincoln to Winston Churchill, he was, or seemed to be, a man of words. Certainly he wanted to be seen that way.
Indeed, everything about the way he gave speeches — the posture, the gestures, the tone — made him seem very much like someone who wished to be thought of as a philosopher king, right out of Plato via Central Casting. He loved playing the role of president as professor, loved the mellifluous sound of his own voice, loved standing in regal fashion at a lectern and proffering what he expected to be received by his audiences as pearls of wisdom.
And whether it was wisdom or not, journalists loved it. Because — oh, the words, those glorious words! The sentences, the passages, the transitions! At one point during the 2008 campaign, somebody in some newspaper or magazine actually diagrammed a sentence by Obama, not from one of his magnificently polished speeches but from some impromptu response to a question at a press conference.
The point, of course, was to show what a wonderfully complex and coherent thinker he was, and how skilled he was at expressing his thoughts in unscripted, elegant, and grammatically correct statements. Obama's sentence was contrasted with an off-the-cuff statement by George W. Bush, which, needless to say, was much more simply put together — indeed, barely coherent, and certainly far from literate.
The conclusion was obvious: Obama was a man for whom the wording and construction and delivery of a speech, or even an answer to a reporter's query, was a matter of supreme importance. The man always came off as thoughtful, sophisticated, supremely articulate.
Throughout his 2008 campaign and then throughout his presidency, journalists' respect for him as a highly serious man of highly serious words remained unshaken. Whatever his policies, and whatever the success or failure thereof, one fact about him could not be challenged: he was a man who took very seriously the act of putting ideas into words, and of polishing those words (or ensuring that his speechwriters polished them) to a golden, perfect sheen. And for this reason – in many cases, perhaps, more than any other – journalists revered him.