The moral of the story is: don’t get seduced by eloquence!
In Confucian cultures people distrust eloquence. They assume, I believe, that eloquence most often serves to seduce, to hide something, to deceive the public.
It is better to vote for achievement rather than for eloquence. One suspects that the message has gotten lost, but it is not a bad thing to be reminded of it. Especially, in terms of the calamitous presidency of an eloquent man, Barack Obama.
Richard Cohen lays out the case in the Washington Post:
The presidency has changed Barack Obama. His hair has gone gray, which is to be expected, and he looks older, which is also to be expected, but his eloquence has been replaced by petulance and he has lost the power to persuade, which is something of a surprise. You can speculate that if the Obama of today and not Winston Churchill had led Britain in World War II, the Old Vic theater would now be doing “Hamlet” in German.
Obama cannot persuade anyone anymore because his eloquence was always a sham. The more he accumulates a track record, the more people see him in action, the more they can judge how well or poorly he leads the nation and the world.
Cohen sees it slightly differently:
It’s not that Obama has lost his gift of eloquence. His problem is that he often has nothing to say. When he does, as after the mass murder in June at a Charleston, S.C., church, he can be moving and eloquent. It is on foreign policy particularly where he goes empty and cold. His policy, after all, is to avoid yet another Middle East quagmire. It entails the ringing call to do as little as possible.
Next, Cohen gets to the salient point. Eloquence will not survive a failure to have a policy:
Obama’s dilemma is not just that he cannot find the words to articulate his policy. He cannot stick to his policy either. His initial reluctance to act in Libya faded when Moammar Gaddafi threatened to massacre his opposition and the French took the lead. His determination to stay out of Iraq collided with the threatened genocide of the Yazidis. Iraq fell apart, the Islamic State seemed to come out of nowhere. Americans were beheaded. Women were enslaved. No boots on the ground became some boots on the ground — and then some more and then some of them helped the Kurds and mixed it up with the Islamic State. Reality rebuts policy, which unravels by degree.
Again, I would say that Obama’s manifest incompetence has drowned out his apparent facility with language:
To a large degree, Obama became president on the strength of his eloquence. To a large degree, that is what has deserted him. He is out of words because he is out of ideas. Consequently, he ought to listen to others. They’re not the ones who are popping off. He is.