"I wonder that people who are concerned for the survival of democracy are not anxious at the inordinate power it gives oratory. A man may be possessed of a disinterested desire to serve his country, he may have wisdom and prudence, courage and a knowledge of affairs, he will never achieve a political position in which he can exercise his powers unless he has also the gift of the gab. I was listening to some people the other day discussing the chances L. had of becoming prime minister and their opinion was unanimous that he had none because he was a poor speaker. I suppose they were right, but is it not frightening that the indispensible qualification a politician needs to conduct the complicated business of a modern nation is a voice that sounds well over the air or the knack of inventing striking phrases? It is only a happy accident if he combines these gifts with common-sense, integrity and foresight…"
from A writer’s Notebook.
I wonder if Somerset has it right here. I have never witnessed a greater thrashing in debate than the one Al Gore put on George Bush in the 2000 election campaign. I recall the huge disappointment I felt when the American people voted Bush in, despite his very obvious oratorical, and I thought, intellectual inferiority.
Rhetorical skills may pose one threat to democracy, appearance — vis Nixon’s five o’clock shadow — clearly poses another: assuming of course that democracy has as its goal the choosing of candidates who will provide the greatest good to the greatest number of people.
Perhaps the thing that motivates voters most powerfully is none of this, but instead the simple desire for change, regardless of what politicians may say, or how they say it; what they look like, or the image they may project.