Jimmy Carter made two speeches while he was abroad. Reading them reminded me of how little our President cares about the written word.
"This is to proclaim our unshaken faith in the values of our democratic nations, and our belief that those values are still relevant - to rich and poor, north and south, east and west . . ."
There's nothing wrong with this sentence. It just isn't a very good one. It's mushy. Anytime you hear anybody talk about "the values of our democratic nations," you know he hasn't really thought much about them; at least not enough to mention what they are.
It's also slightly phony. Anytime you hear a speaker begin that litany about "rich and poor, north and south, east and west," you know he's scared to death he might not have enough to say to fit the time, and is tempted to continue," . . . big and little, fat and thin, urban and rural, old and young, male and female . . ." Why not?
I'm not making fun of our President or suggesting that he's the worst speaker we've ever had in the White House - although I suspect he is one of the worst.
But I do think it's important to understand what manner of man we elected, to note he has no interest whatever in using the presidency as a platform from which to instruct or exhort or explain.
His speechwriters have less work to do than any White House speechwriters within recent memory. One of them complained the other day that he hardly ever saw the President. Yet when the President writes his own speeches, such as his acceptance speech in New York and his inaugural a year ago, it is evident that the man needs help.
That is, if he has anything he wants to say. And herein may lie an important clue to the personality and character of Jimmy Carter. It may be that he has nothing he wants to say. Or it may be that he believes men should be measured by their deeds alone.
This may be true for engineers, unless they are teachers too, but it is a doubtful precept for a man who owns the foremost platform in the nation - unless, of course, once again, that man has no programs he wants people to accept, no goals he wants to persuade them to try to attain.
It is true that Jimmy Carter did try to persuade us to accept an energy program, but it is the consensus in this town that he didn't try very hard. The two major speeches he made on the subject were not very good and fell pretty flat. At one point, he hinted at the possibility that he might go to the country in a series of speeches to try to sell the program. That was the last anybody heard of that idea.
My own hunch - for what it's worth, and it's only a hunch - is that Jimmy Carter is afraid of a speech because he knows that a speech commits. A speech has to say something, usually something quite definite, as in "I will go to Korea."
Either that, or be suggestive of a program to come, as in "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."
I think Jimmy Carter has discovered a way to avoid the danger of commitment. He does it with a smile and an answer to a question. If the answer seems to commit and the commitment seems inconvenient, the answer can be explained way in terms of the question, or the context of the previous question.
Speeches cannot be explained away. So Carter avoids them. Which leaves us, one year into his presidency, still wondering whether he has anything he wants to speak about.