When Words Fail

A protester in EgyptIt’s February 8, 2011 and Hosni Mubarak is still President of Egypt. On one level, that’s completely unsurprising, given that he’s held the job for 30 years. But on another level, given the dramatic events of the past two weeks, a culminating event sometime before the Super Bowl seemed inevitable. Late last week, the White House began communicating through a variety of channels that it was time for Mubarak to go … but today, they hedged, saying that change doesn’t have to come quickly.

The new White House stance comes on the heels of a bizarre Sarah Palin interview in USA Today where she said “no body yet has explained to the American public what they know.” Clearly, Palin wasn’t talking about Glenn Beck, who has told the American people exactly what the Egyptian uprising is all about … it’s the product of a new alliance between radical Islamists and Communists. Silly me, I thought the CIA, the Teamsters, the mafia and Fidel Castro did it.

All of which raises the obvious question: if you have nothing to say, why talk at all? Why is it the duty of the President of the United States to send “clear messages” about events that we cannot control or make clear to the American people our policy, when that policy is clearly in a state of flux? Also in that USA Today interview, Sarah Palin said “we know that now more than ever, we need strength and sound mind there in the White House. We need to know what it is that America stands for so we know who it is that America will stand with.”

I see. So America needs to find someone to demonize, fast, so it becomes easy to have a snap opinion about what’s happening. Otherwise we’re twisting in the wind, watching events and having to use that strange organ known as a brain to process the confusing, conflicting information. And that’s just too exhausting. Just tell us who the evildoers are and let us hate them, so we can get back to blaming the other guys for everything wrong in America.

It doesn’t have to be this way, we don’t have to be slaves to ideology – and we don’t have to open our mouths and opine about a situation when there’s nothing productive to say about it. Over the past two weeks, I’ve been working on a project to write 107 essays in 107 days, based on the essays of Michel de Montaigne. You can follow the work on my  blog, www.danconley.com. In these 14 days, I’ve found Montaigne to be an indispensible touchstone for judging the value of an opinion and knowing when it’s most prudent to let events unfold before judging them.

When it comes to a volatile, explosive event like the Egyptian uprising, we could all do a lot worse than to adopt Montaigne’s motto: What do I know?  It’s not just a good communications policy, sometimes it’s the best foreign policy as well. PunditWire Initials

The former chief speechwriter for Virginia Governor L. Douglas Wilder and Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, Dan Conley is a Chicago-based professional speechwriter and frequent op-ed contributor to major national publications.

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