Thursday, December 20, 2007

Power of words

There's talk in my native Australia about the fact that the new prime minister Kevin Rudd is not exactly an impressive orator. I agree. Commentators are bending over backwards in their determination to make it clear that this lack of eloquence is a commendable and specifically Australian quality. The more you mumble, the more you're an authentic Aussie. As my friend Geoff, considering me totally out of touch with my native land, once explained: "You fail to understand, William, that Australia doesn't have a literary culture." In other words, those like me who would expect powerful and logical words from our leaders must be considered as misguided un-Australian observers.

Here in France, there's a delightful ongoing scandal about a senior civil servant who has been renting dirt-cheap for decades (since the epoch when Jacques Chirac was mayor) a huge Parisian flat owned by the municipality. At one stage, the guy in question had to move to another city, whereupon he wrote a letter suggesting that he should hang on officially to the superb cheap accommodation in Paris, while offering to sublet it to a friend. In his letter, he stated that this solution, for his family and himself, would be "a factor of tranquility". Well, a talented journalist at Libération, telling us this tale, added a marvelous satirical comment, composed of no more than five words: "On ne saurait mieux dire." This terse appreciation might be translated into English as: "There's no better way of putting it."

I'm delighted every time I have the chance and privilege of encountering well-spoken or well-written words. I'm persuaded that our leaders should be able to expression themselves in powerful spoken and written words. In the USA, this was the case with leaders such as John Kennedy and Bill Clinton. Here in France, eloquence has always been considered as a primary necessity... at least up until the arrival on the presidential scene of the latest incumbent, whose words would often appear to have little more power to stir the emotions, sadly, than those of a police officer surveying the scene of a crime, or a notary public assessing the extent of damages after an accident. You might judge that my harsh evaluation of the deplorable lack of eloquence of Nicolas Sarkozy, like that of Rudd, is blunt. But I believe, as they say, that there's no better way of putting it.

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