The Wordsmith in Chief
America, since its inception, has always aimed at being a beacon for the rest of the world, thanks to the promotion, and sometimes the imposition, of its values— a strong commitment to justice, liberty and the pursuit of happiness—upon the rest of the world. Until a few decades ago, American decision-makers have had a lot of explaining to do when they had to justify their benevolent interventions in other countries in the name of liberty, while their own society was still harboring the evils of slavery and segregation, let alone the original sin of the misappropriation of the Natives’ lands. But the greatness of this country has always been its ability to outgrow its shortcomings, and today, with a Black man in the White House, the current generation of White Americans—who were the very first to carry Obama’s presidential dream when even some notable Black icons deemed it utopian— have redeemed the souls of their ancestors.
Today, wherever people are suffering from oppression and dictatorship, they solicit America’s intervention. Even in Iran, during last year’s uprising, the youth made it clear that America could help them get rid of their anachronistic self-serving leaders. How did America, despite its own historical failings, achieve such a unique status in the world? The answer lies in one of the most overlooked functions of an American president: that of being the wordsmith in chief.
Some moments like the moon landing, 9/11, Pearl Harbor, just to name a few, put all political rivalries to rest for a while, as the country comes together to either celebrate or grieve. In such moments, the citizenry, paralyzed by numbness, looks up to the president for the right words to trigger a communal and symbiotic emotional response by playing on each citizen’s patriotic fibers. And on these occasions, a president who can personally set pen to paper instead of relying on his speechmakers, has a better chance of rising up to the occasion, and deliver the celebratory or soothing speech—depending on the circumstances—that can uplift the most the national spirit and reaffirm America’s values to the rest of the world.
During the last two decades, France and England have participated in almost all the wars America has fought in the name of liberty. Why is it that their names are not associated with America’s in the proportion of their involvement when it comes to reaping the moral dividends of these expeditions? They have fallen short of selling their image as democracy-promoting countries. The United-States, more than anyone else, has been successful in doing that through the adept use of the Bully Pulpit by the US president. The latter has a unique leadership position in the world, and his words are sought after from Brazil’s Favela to Haiti’s slums to Iran’s youth circles. And that is why it is so reassuring to have in the White House a president who masters the use of the written word, and just as much scary that some of those who may replace him cannot even put three ideas together without being the laughing stock in chief.