Good rhetoric isn’t good politics

“Obama is such a good speaker. He is just so eloquent. He is really dynamic and engaging.”

This I heard a number of times last weekend of Obama’s address to the University of Queensland, amid the frenzy, heat and security crackdowns that were the Brisbane G20. Every time I heard it I wondered, “Why is that surprising?”

Shouldn’t it be natural that the President of one of the major economic powerhouses of the last century is at the very least a good speaker? That is his job, right?

I began to wonder if the prevalence of this comment is indeed a poor reflection on the intellect of the Australian populace and political realm.

Are we so devoid of eloquent and inspiring political speakers in Australia that the first thing noticed when an international politician gives a speech is the very fact that they can speak?

Certainly no one mentions this of Abbott, unless we are referring to his special abilities to speak in a way that is inappropriate, evasive and contradictory often all at the same time.

To me, being a good speaker isn’t something worthy of praising Obama for.

It is what I expect from the leader of the United States, or the leader of any organisation, country or group in fact.

Most people who deliver TED talks are excellent speakers, the teachers at my school are good speakers and conferences are generally coordinated based on the competency of the speakers. Indeed all professionals for whom communication is an essential part of their job should be good speakers.

It seems natural then to expect that for someone in Obama’s position, speaking well is an essential, minimum requirement.

With fewer comments on him being a good speaker and more on to what he speaks about I think we’d progress forward a little further.

In this recent so-called “good speech” Obama has pledged $3 billion dollars to the global climate change fund, a third of the expected $10 billion to be achieved before talks progress next year. A good step in the right direction no doubt and seemingly a lot of money until you realise that the value of the US’s spending on defence in the 2013 fiscal year was in the order of $650 billion and rising.

He also called for the world to act upon climate change and for Australia’s Great Barrier Reef to be protected for generations to come. A widely radical comment in contrast to the dismal environmental commitment or understanding of our current PM.

Obama’s Reef’ comments were unappreciated by the Australian government who claim they are demonstrating world’s best practice in protecting the reef. If world’s best practice includes plans to build coal terminals along the coast, dredging the sea floor and the export of fossil fuels across one of our more precious natural assets, then we’ve certainly got a cause for concern.

Yet President Obama failed to recognise the emissions required to transport him around the world complete with 3 jets, 40 cars and 2 helicopters in his regular entourage.

The stage from which Obama spoke was adorned with US and Australian flags and Obama highlighted the many similarities between the two countries, stating that they are indeed “cut from the same cloth.”

Little reference was made of the indigenous owners of the lands who originally wove this cloth and the ongoing plight of these people in both countries to maintain sovereignty, respect and recognition of their role both historical and present. Amidst the panel of symbols and logos behind Obama, there was not an Aboriginal flag to be seen.

Obama also referenced Australia and the US as important allies and the growing importance of the Asia Pacific region for strategic alliances amidst the rapid change in Asian countries, notably the Philippines and Indonesia, from dictatorships to genuine democracies in the past few decades.

Anyone who has spent more than the most superficial amount of time in either of these countries knows that genuine democracies they are not.

Corruption and insider deals still cut the majority of their populations off from the basic necessities and opportunities they are entitled to. Freedom of speech can be had, but not at a cost many, especially the poor, are willing to pay.

Obama also said that the United States was the world’s only superpower, thus it is their responsibility to shoulder the world’s burdens. True perhaps 100 years ago but they are surely sharing that stage, ironic that he would say this at the G20 itself.

It may seem finicky to be picking out and focusing on all that went unmentioned by the great President Obama.

It is certainly easier and nicer to be caught up in the rhetoric and commend him for all the pledges he has made to the environment, to addressing poverty, to creating jobs and maintaining security.

However it is pertinent, I feel, to point out the blaring contradictions in the rhetoric, to maintain scepticism and not be swayed  by the smooth words of a charismatic man, held in place by the strings of the complex, self serving, intelligence building algorithm that is the United States.





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