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War of the Words

War of the Words

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

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I've been flipping through the 24-hour TV news channels today and seeing so much campaign coverage you'd think it's November already. Sen. John McCain calling out Sen. Barack Obama, and accusing him of being little more than eloquent words with no real substance. A similar attack came from Sen. Hillary Clinton, who's hoping to end Obama's run of primary wins when voters in Texas and Ohio weigh-in in two weeks. Right now, though, the focus is definitely on the rhetoric, and more specifically on Obama's words. Did he plagiarize? Didn't he? Did Clinton plagiarize? Does anybody care? McCain and Clinton are trying to make this an issue of style vs. substance, do you see it that way? We'll mull it over with our own Political Junkie, Ken Rudin.



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"Do words matter in this election?" After seven years of learning why a lack of words matter, I think this country is more than ready for a president who is a master of words. And I'm not the only decider on this!

Sent by Wayne Ranney | 2:14 PM | 2-20-2008

Quick correction about Obama from the previous caller, he is actually 47 years old and, if elected, will be the same age as Bill Clinton was when he was inaugurated.

Sent by Pedro | 2:25 PM | 2-20-2008

The minimum age requirement for a US president is 35 years... not 45 as you have concurred (by your silence) with a caller who said that Barack Obama, at age 47, is only two years older than the minimum requirement. You need to set the record straight... people are listening!

Sent by Susan Ober | 2:25 PM | 2-20-2008

To paraphrase Douglas Adams:
Anyone capable of getting elected President should not be allowed to hold the office. The traits required of winning an election and governing are mutually exclusive.

Sent by BJ | 2:27 PM | 2-20-2008

do you think Obama's popularity could be a reaction to the last 7 year's ineloquence (and that's being kind)?

Sent by Robert Holford | 2:29 PM | 2-20-2008

As for the rap on Barack Obama's lack of experience: he would have twelve years in elective office at inauguration. Hillary Clinton would have eight. JFK had fourteen.

Sent by Peter | 2:29 PM | 2-20-2008

How do we know there is any substance behind any of these folks? It all sounds like hot air to me. And what kind of track record do candidates have for actually following through w/ the content of their speeches once in office?

Sent by Kimberly from Richmond | 2:35 PM | 2-20-2008

In answer to the trivia question...Al Sharpton was the last person born in Hawaii that ran for president.

Sent by Jennifer Eager | 2:37 PM | 2-20-2008

I'm I the only one that thinks Obama is the next Jimmy Carter?

I'm old enough to remember when Jimmy Carter was the new Hope for the country after the Nixon years. Carters campaign slogan in 1976 was "A Leader for a Change."

Sound familiar?

The Dems have a track record of voting with their hearts and not their heads. Carters one term in office was spent getting bogged down in trying to do things differently and look what happened. He was also too inexperienced to handle the big problems that faced the country.

Sent by Tarno | 2:39 PM | 2-20-2008

McCain claims that he has played a vital role in military and foreign policy decisions for the last twenty years. Then, why did he let us get attacked? Why do a majority of army officers say that we are worse shape than ever? Why are so many unneeded weapons systems being funded and why do they consistently run behind schedule and over budget? Clearly, his 'experience' can only be offered as defense against change.

Sent by Thomas Stroud | 2:40 PM | 2-20-2008

To me it seems like Barack has plenty of details, substance and plans behind his vision. The notion that his rhetoric is empty is frankly puzzling to me. Doesn't his record show that he is able to get things done on the ground? Maybe it's because he's a likeable man of character whose style lowers people's guard when they encounter him.

Sent by Jeff Lindon | 2:46 PM | 2-20-2008

Many a person has been denied employment and even their doctorate when they are found to have plagiarized their thesis and their job experience so what makes Obama so different. He says it was an error on his part not to give credit to his friend but was it truly an error or just a hope that no one would catch it.

Sent by Joanne Trotta | 2:49 PM | 2-20-2008

I'm upset that, once again, the media and others are parroting a lie about a candidate. The latest one from the Clinton campaign asserts that Obama is all talk and has no plans. Go to, click "Issues" and you'll find 26 specific issues addressed!

As a life-long Democrat, I'll have an extremely hard time voting for Clinton because of these Republican tactics. In fact her voting record is way too much like Republicans in my judgement, e.g. " Yes" for Kyle-Lieberman??

Sent by John Kelly | 3:02 PM | 2-20-2008

I think the argument that the Clintons lack good judgment is far more convincing (based on evidence,) than this spurious idea of Obama's incompetence.

If we didn't have an F.D.R.'s to rally the people to act in their own interests, what kind of society we'd be living in today? What would be the state of the world?

Would Ronald Regan have been so effective in executing his vision if he had not been so likable and a master of the media?

I have zero confidence in Ms. Clinton's ability to enact policies as she has only ever been a polarizing figure.

Even her non-anti-war stance drove a wedge in the Democratic party, paving the way for this impending demise.

(For those not able to read between the lines, you have to understand the infamous vote as a political decision specifically related to the current race, i.e. the need to look hawkish and tough. There is no rational for a child advocate giving any support to a military action that was never more than questionable. All of the information on the discrediting the case for war was in fact available. The idea of being "fooled" is nothing more than plausible deniability. This is politics.)

Luckily, Ms. Clinton seems to determined to continue the digging of her own grave with these consistently backfiring, negative attacks.

I would never accuse Ms. Clinton of the slightest hint of racism, but regarding judgment, with all the cultural baggage attached, I'd be very wary of accusing an African-American person of not having the capacity to do work!

Sent by Mike Nuell | 3:14 PM | 2-20-2008

The Democrats have a recent history of shooting themselves in the foot, and have been shamefully craven and ineffectual in the last 8 years.

A super-delegate overturning of the will of the people would be perfectly in character.

Sent by Mike Nuell | 3:51 PM | 2-20-2008

I wasn't able to express this over the air during the show, but in my opinion this whole discussion is racially motivated. Obama is a United States Senator; of course he's eloquent! But because he's Black, he's supposed to talk as if he's uneducated?! If this isn't racism, I'd like to know who made this an important issue and why, because compared to what we have now, it'll be refreshing to have somebody in office who can speak proper English.

Sent by Iris M. Gross | 4:08 PM | 2-20-2008

I agree that Obama is all talk and no plan. When I click on his "Issues" link I see more of the same lofty contentless rhetoric and a lack of specificity. Don't assert in three different ways that you're going to help the middle-class; spelling it all out once in detail is far more convincing.

Sent by Mike in Tucson | 4:55 PM | 2-20-2008

two comments on the middle age depression topic. I am 46 and like many of my age, it is when we are in 40's that many of us have at least one parent pass away. There is the obvious emotional toll as well as recgonition that we are next in line. I would also like to object to the frequent line of "lowering expectations". I never lowered my expections, I just realized that the priorities of my youth were based on our societies value system rather than what I needed to be content. I am somewhat offended by anyone (which i do get) who suggests that because my priorities do not match theirs, my expectations are "lower". Oh, it should be mentioned that my experience with the medical field is they are too quick to provide medicine (such as paxil,etc.) which by design creates a malaise.

Sent by lars braun | 7:01 PM | 2-20-2008

One caller noted that Hitler was a well know orator, but failed to note that not only was Hitler quite skilled in leading Germany in a horrible direction, he led Germany exactly where he said he would:

"I say: my feeling as a Christian points me to my Lord and Saviour as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded only by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to the fight against them and who, God's truth! was greatest not as sufferer but as fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and of adders. How terrific was His fight for the world against the Jewish poison. Today, after two thousand years, with deepest emotion I recognize more profoundly than ever before - the fact that it was for this that He had to shed His blood upon the Cross. As a Christian I have no duty to allow myself to be cheated, but I have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice. And as a man I have the duty to see to it that human society does not suffer the same catastrophic collapse as did the civilization of the ancient world some two thousand years ago - a civilization which was driven to its ruin through this same Jewish people." -- Adolf Hitler, Munich speech of April 12, 1922

As sick as it is to make the comparison, if Obama is as true to his word and as effective as Hitler, Obama will very much change the nature of politics and unify the nation.

I would rather point to JFK's promise to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. And that was accomplished because JFK inspired a nation to come together and meet that challenge; many picked up the challenge set by JFK and followed it through to conclusion, long after JFK was dead.

Sent by michael pettengill | 10:59 PM | 2-20-2008

So the bottom line is that Senator Obama has:

1) Won 10 states in a role

2) Successfully recruited Senator Clinton's base (White women, the elderly, lower educational achievement)

and his opponents think he should change course and follow THEIR losing rhetoric?

Boy, they must really think Senator Obama is a complete idiot! What propagnda.

Studies have shown time and time again that Democrats lose the presidency because they talk "at" the public with policy papers and plans instead of talking "to" the public and keeping things light. THAT is the key to the Republican revolution.

Senator Obama was writen TWO very intelligent books, did just as well in school as Senator Clinton and has outlined specific plans. We worked twice as hard to get to where he is and has the same stress dealing with hate for being Black as Senator Clinton has for being female. The guy gets 3-4 hours of sleep nightly.
The only difference is that Obama handles the stress better and has no need to tell us how hard his life is.
This compared to Senator Clintons false claims of "35 years" of experience. After 35 years working for children and women, I would think that Senator Clinton would have something to show (an institution, a national or local program, scholars/grants in her name, etc.).

Funny enough, no one can account for those 35 years outside of the role as 1st lady of state, 1st lady of the nation and 6-years in the Senate. As a feminist, I am disappointed that Senator Clinton is using her role of a wife while other female politicians climb the lady on their own.

Sent by Sarah | 12:48 AM | 2-21-2008

A false dichotomy has been introduced into the discussion on issue of rhetoric: if you're a talented orator, you must not have substance; if you're not as inspirational a speech-maker (read: McCain and Clinton), it means that you're a smart and experienced policy maker. Read my blog post on the topic at

Sent by Zach Wallmark | 12:40 PM | 2-21-2008