I’ve often made the comparison between Obama 2007 and Colin Powel circa 2000: non-threatening black men with the ability to express themselves extremely well and without the baggage of having taken a lot of public stances on controversial issues. Another comparison, though, is illustrated by an old Chris Rock joke: “People say Colin Powell speaks so well. What’d they expect him to say? ‘Ahmma drop me a bomb’?” There’s something incredibly condescending to think of saying that a man who has risen to the ranks of 4-star general or United States Senator is “articulate,” but it’s always meant as a compliment. In reality, though, it’s a backhanded one.Persuasive orators are actually kind of rare in this day and age--even among those elected to public office.
The US Senate these days isn't exactly the Roman Senate in terms of rhetoric. Case in point: John Kerry, whose stump speeches in the last campaign were less than Ciceronian. And even admirers of the current President wouldn't classify him as a skillful orator. Or his father before him, Mr. Vision Thing. For that matter, Eisenhower was criticized for his lack of rhetorical skills and his Vice President was also less than inspiring at the podium.