[OUTLOOK]The use and misuse of oratory

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[OUTLOOK]The use and misuse of oratory

A book about the lives of ancient Romans by Plutarch includes a story about Gaius Gracchus (153-121 B.C.), a famous Roman reform politician. His speeches were always crude and emotional; when delivering a speech, he often became so emotional that he found himself talking about something utterly different than his topic.
Fortunately, he had a bright servant named Licinius. When Gaius Gracchus gave a speech, Licinius stood behind the scenes with an ivory pitch pipe. When his master began to go off track, Licinius immediately blew a warning note to remind Gaius Gracchus to get back on topic.
According to another book by Plutarch on the lives of ancient Greeks, the Athenian politician Pericles (495-429 B.C.) always prayed to the gods to guide him to avoid saying inappropriate things while delivering a speech.
Speeches are very important for politicians. Marcus Tullius Cicero, a politician in ancient Rome and one of the greatest Latin orators, wrote a book about rhetoric when he was 19. He wrote that the power of oratory as well as reasoning power enabled many cities to be built, many wars mediated, firm alliances established and friendly relations built. But eloquence is not everything politicians need.
Cicero emphasized that a politician must have a healthy dose of philosophy and eloquence as prerequisites. “Philosophy” can mean today’s notions of knowledge, vision and content.
President Roh Moo-hyun misunderstands that people criticize him for his words only because he talks a lot. If he talks a lot and delivers hope to the people, who are frustrated about surging housing prices, increasing unemployment and household debt, no one would complain about his talking. If he delivers a lengthy speech revealing his determination and methods to resolve North Korea’s nuclear crisis through collaborating with international society, few would complain about the length of his speech.
President Roh also believes that he is eloquent. Well, maybe he is as a political fighter, but as president, he isn’t. His words are crude, vulgar and charged with too much emotion; thus they are not suitable for the leader of this country.
His vulgar expressions, such as “to count on Big Brother, hiding behind the buttocks of the United States,” make listeners feel ashamed and humiliated. When he opens his mouth, the people automatically feel stress.
President Roh mistakenly believes that former U.S. President Bill Clinton and Britain’s Tony Blair were successful mainly because they were eloquent. He said that Mr. Blair became successful because he was eloquent and that Mr. Clinton was a genius at making speeches.
But he is wrong. Mr. Blair made a success of himself because he reformed the Labor Party with vision, insight and a right sense of the times.
He revised the party constitution that called for nationalization of major enterprises and redistribution of income, and accepted the Conservative Party’s moves to enforce privatization of state-owned companies and a reduction in social welfare levels.
In 1992, Mr. Clinton defeated George H. W. Bush because the younger politician understood the anxieties of Americans who had been going through a long slump. He presented medium- and long-term plans to revive the economy.
After the Gulf War ended in 1991, Mr. Bush’s approval rating stood at above 90 percent. He did not listen to his aides, who were sure that he would be defeated in 1992 because of the slow economy and advised him to present solutions to repair the slump.
The slogan of Mr. Clinton’s camp, “It’s the economy, stupid!” was impressive enough to mock Mr. Bush effectively and win over the electorate at the same time.
President Roh also said Mr. Clinton and Mr. Blair were good at speeches because they have the necessary intelligence and philosophy.
Perhaps he means that he also is eloquent because he has that level of intelligence and philosophy. I do hope that is the case with him as well.
But when Mr. Blair is debating his opponents in Parliament or when Mr. Clinton makes speeches, they never use vulgar and provocative expressions to offend the people, which would make a listener become suspicious about their intelligence and philosophy.
President Roh declared that he would communicate with his whole being for his remaining term.
That is a provocative announcement. If President Roh wants to take Western leaders as role models and resemble them, I do hope that he will not cause chaos or controversy with his words in the remaining year of his term.

*The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Young-hie

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