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    Can He Be as Good as He Does?

    For the next two years, who he is as president is as important as what he does as president. 

    Geoff Garin, Democratic pollster, in the New York Times 

    antistrophe (an-TIS-tro-fee), the last-word repeater. From the Greek, meaning “turning about.” Also called epistrophe (eh-PIS-tro-fee), meaning the same thing. See more examples here and here.

    The antistrophe brings down the gavel on a sentence’s key word, letting you stress more than one aspect of a concept or thing. In this case, we’re talking about the president, whose first two years were all Logos. The next two will need a big ol’ dollop of Ethos.

    Obama’s bipartisan debt-reduction commission has offered a sensible, painful, bat’s-chance-in-hell plan for a sustainable economic future. Barring a national emergency, the commission’s recommendations will set the American political agenda for the next two years. The Republicans are already firing their plentiful guns against simplifying the tax code, while the Dems wring their expressive hands over recommended cuts in Social Security.

    The president, for his part, needs to decide whether to back all or part of the commission’s council and then sell the public on it. Up until the recent “shellacking” election, Obama has notched legislative victories like a checklist-mad shopper. (This viral summary will make you dizzy if you haven’t seen it.)

    Now we’ll see what he stands for. And whether he stands for it.

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    Reader Comments (16)

    What exactly do you mean by that title, "Can he be as good as he does"? Won't the president be measured by his accomplishments?
    November 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSadie Frontin
    Not necessarily, Sadie. John Adams famously said of George Washington that he may not have been the best president, but he was the greatest actor as president. Adams, who was fluent in Latin, understood the concept of ACTIO. The term lies at the root of both "action" and "acting." Washington embodied the presidency and set many of its important traditions.

    Similarly, Ronald Reagan accomplished relatively little legislatively as president, but he persuaded the country to think differently about the size of the government.

    Obama has accomplished an astonishing amount. But how he communicates his vision to the people will determine his presidency. And he's been strikingly bad at it.
    November 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSadie Frontin
    I really like your phrase "sensible, painful, bats chance in hell". That a figure? What's its name?
    November 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBig Ed
    I don't know of any technical term for building an adjectival phrase to a climax or surprise, but I like using it. Call it the Adjective Burst. Or am I missing a term, fellow Figarists?
    November 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFigaro
    In your book, you say that Ethos has three characteristics, practical wisdom, virtue, and disinterested good will. Which is it that Obama needs to play up?
    November 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMestiva
    Good question, Mestiva. It's not so much what he needs to play up as what he needs to fix. While he's great at practical wisdom, and seems OK in the good will part, his virtue is terrible.

    As you know from "Thank You for Arguing," we're not talking about the virtue of absolutely Right and Wrong (or political Right and Left, for that matter). Rhetorical virtue is the ability to convince your audience that you share, and stand for, their values.

    Obama has allowed himself to be branded as an outsider. He needs to take the bully pulpit and makes something of it, endowing the public with words that make its purposes known.
    November 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFigaro
    Fig, sometimes you seem to be a flaming liberal and at other times a conservative. What are you, exactly?
    November 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlletta Roberts
    A Hamiltonian liberal, Alletta. Time was when Figaro precisely reflected the opinion of the American People. When the American People were 60% for gun control in the early 80s, Figaro found himself leaning toward gun control. Then the country swung hard to the right, and Fig. found himself unchanged but somehow stranded.

    Figaro responded pathetically to the debt commission. At last, he thought, people who hold their nose and do the right thing. Not that the right thing will be done.
    November 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFigaro
    Stand for what? Can you sum up what Obama should "be"?
    November 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLinda
    Yes, the future. Any expenditure that doesn't serve the future should be given a hard look--and that includes tax cuts. Education and infrastructure should get first place in any budget, because it adds to eventual national wealth and helps us compete in an increasingly competitive global economy. Social security, Medicare, and tax breaks for the wealthy have to take a back seat.

    So he should stand on, and fight for, the future.
    November 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFigaro
    I wonder if we can get Obama to read your blog?
    He's like a homebuilder, busy reading blue-prints and laying brick. But, if he'd just convince the home-owners of his disinterested goodwill, his virtue, he could get all kinds of help reading blue-prints and laying bricks and he could spend more time *writing* blue-prints. He means well, and if was still a senator, he'd be doing a fabulous job. But, as a president, he's a bit lacking in the "leader of the free world" department. You can't lead a crowd from the back.
    November 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterContent
    Content, I wouldn't mind if Obama read Figaro, especially if he invited me to a free lunch and a Slushie. Obama is terrible at framing at labeling, and the Republicans throw sticky tropes around him that immobilize him rhetorically. He needs SOME kind of help--communication that's very different from the kind that wins election campaigns.
    November 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFigaro
    Quantity doesn't make quality. Sure Obama has passed a lot of legislation. Most of it has just created bloatation of the federal government. He needs to find the mean if he wants to appeal to more voters. So far he has not shown any ability to move from his leftist ideology or even an understanding that he needs to if he wants any chance at a second term.
    November 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMallard T. Drake
    "sensible, painful, bats chance in hell"

    That would be a combination of climax and synonymia, so a synonomax?
    November 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCristian
    Mallard, I agree that quantity doesn't mean quality. But Obama's shepherding of the legislative agenda has been masterful. As for his "leftist agenda," I think that says more about the rightward turn of the nation than of Obama himself, who's determinedly centrist.
    November 14, 2010 | Registered CommenterFigaro
    Or maybe just "synomax," Cristian!
    November 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFigaro

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