Obama Bests Clinton At Craft of Writing

Adam Kirsch in the New York Sun:

Screenhunter_01_mar_04_0831When Democratic primary voters go to the polls tomorrow in Ohio and Texas, it’s a safe bet that few will be casting their votes based on senators Clinton‘s and Obama‘s merits as writers. To judge a candidate based on his or her literary ability would be as irrelevant, most people agree, as voting for the better ballroom dancer. It may be a nice talent to have, but it has nothing to do with being president. It even seems a little naïve to judge a politician as the author of a book bearing his or her name. Today, just about every candidate with national ambitions feels the need to publish a book — a memoir, a polemic, a 10-point program — but such books are not really written; they are issued, such as press releases or position papers. A senator is no more the author of his books than of his bills. In both cases, he just accepts responsibility for a document drafted by a team of experts.

Against this cynicism, however, stands the fact that the greatest statesmen — the ones who occupy the most cherished places in our historical memory — are the ones who were great writers. President Lincoln and Prime Minister Churchill, to take the most familiar examples, occupy a higher plane than the average president or prime minister, partly because of the events they participated in, but also because of the way they interpreted those events in their speeches and writings. Politics and language, they proved, do not have to be sullen strangers — or sworn enemies, as they are in the realm of propaganda that George Orwell wrote about. On the contrary, reading Lincoln’s second inaugural or Churchill’s 1940 speeches, it becomes clear that the political and the literary converge at the highest levels. In both fields, the ability to imagine and to communicate what you imagine is essential; and both of those tasks depend entirely on language. As long as politics is an expression of human creativity, not just a matter of administering populations, there will be a profound connection between language and leadership.

More here.