It is said that among all of the great and talented orators of ancient times there are two whose captivating and spellbinding oratory caused them to stand out above all others.
Those two, whose lives were lived several centuries apart, were named Cicero, a Roman, and Demosthenes, a Greek.
Both were said to be able to mesmerize a crowd with a dazzling presentation skills and each could present arguments so compelling that their opponents were forced to give in when faced with rhetoric and delivery of such superior skill.
And yet there was one remarkable difference between them. A difference that radically affected the impact they had on their respective audiences.
When Cicero spoke to the crowds in ancient Rome it is said that the audience would cheer with wild abandon. They applauded, they yelled, they stomped their feet and their exuberance was boundless.
When Demosthenes spoke something vastly different to place. The audience would rise as one, turn to each other and say, “let us march.”
One of these great orators convinced the crowds of the strength of his message the other caused the crowd to take action.
And I was reminded of this on Thursday evening as I watched Barack Obama accept his party’s nomination for President of the United States.
A week earlier Mitt Romney had spoken to an excited crowd at the Republican convention when he too had accepted his party’s nomination for president.
Both of these men delivered clear, articulate, well written and powerful messages to the assembled masses and TV audiences around the world.
Both of these men were frequently interrupted by wild applause as they made point after point in reminding their listeners of their own greatness while at the same time pointing out the weaknesses and flaws in their opponents.
When Mr. Romney finished his speech the audience cheered with great enthusiasm. Faces were lit up with excitement and heads were nodding in agreement with all he had said.
People yelled, they applauded, they bristled with excitement and they left no doubt as to their faith in him and the great things he would accomplish for their country.
When Mr. Obama finished his speech he too received a standing ovation from his audience. They too, like their fellow countrymen from a week earlier, were filled with excitement that left no doubt as to their faith in him and the great things he would accomplish for the country.
But there was one striking difference between the two groups.
Mr. Romney’s group was excited – and that’s all they were.
Mr. Obama’s group, in addition to being excited, were moved.
And when people are moved they tend to take action. They tend to unite behind a common cause and work hard to breathe life into it.
I think the differences could best be summed up this way: Mr. Romney convinced millions of people to vote for him. Mr. Obama convinced millions of people to vote for him and also to work hard to encourage their friends, family, colleagues and associates to do the same.
Mr. Romney, unquestionably a man of great intellect, seems to lack the ability to stir emotion in others. Mr. Obama, also a man of great intellect, has a way of not only getting his message across but of stirring the type of emotions in people that cause them to take action.
I’m not sure if Mr. Obama can claim all the credit for his Demosthenes-like performance. Certainly, in my opinion, at the end of his speech the crowd exhibited a “let us march” behavior that I do believe that a great deal of that was attributed to an electrifying performance delivered to this crowd the evening before.
Demosthenes certainly did put in an appearance at the Democratic convention. He did so in the form of Bill Clinton – perhaps the greatest political orator of our times.
Mr. Clinton sold Mr. Obama to the crowd and the millions of TV watchers as only he is capable of doing. He left the audience with no doubt that in this next election they have but one choice and that is to place their incumbent president back in the White House for four more years.
Whether we agree with Mr. Clinton’s viewpoints or not, whether he we respect him as a person or not, the undeniable truth about this man is that he has the ability to move massive numbers of people to take action and, in my humble opinion, he certainly succeeded in doing this on Wednesday night.
If Mr. Obama is successful on election night he may well owe Mr. Clinton a debt that can never be repaid.
Demosthenes would have been so proud.
Till we read again.
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