Just Words

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts”

From William Shakespeare’s “As You Like it” Act II: Scene VII. As spoken by the character Jaques.*

Famous words. The character Jaques goes on to identify the seven stages of a man’s life in this oft-quoted Shakespeare passage.

But did you see what I did?

I gave credit to the source of those words. I did that because they’re not really mine.

Even though I could have just used them–the copyright limitations expired long ago–there is probably a lot of people who would read them and get the impression that I’m quite the bard. But if I resorted to such deceitful tactics, eventually someone, such as yourself, would read the words only to get the impression that I’m a liar, a cheat, and a thief. But I didn’t do it, so stay with me and I’ll explain where I’m going with this.

When I was merely a teen, I saw the movie Patton starring George C. Scott in the post theater at Fort Lee Virginia. The famous speech to his troops is legendary. It’s been copied and mocked ever since.

America was struggling for good leadership in those days. I remember believing, in my still-growing mind, that George C. Scott was the man we needed to lead our Army. Yes, that sounds silly now. Being young, dumb and whatever else–I was fooled.

That’s not a bad thing for an actor to do to the audience.

The best actors are the ones who are gifted enough to make you actually believe they are the character they are playing. George C. Scott was a brilliant and gifted actor. But he was not like the real George S. Patton. I didn’t learn that until I watched another movie that starred Scott, which was made three-years earlier. It was called the Flim-Flam Man.

Scott played the character Mordecia Jones, who was a con-artist whose motto was “you can’t cheat an honest man.” He was a master of lying, cheating, and stealing–everything that Patton was not. Mordeica Jones was a parasite. I was nearly mortified until I felt my brain grow.

Once again Scott had proved himself to be such a great actor that he touched my soul. Scott’s performance helped me to understand the difference between a man who reads scripts well and looks good on camera from great Americans who have led our nation in times of crisis.

Like everyone, I remember 9-11 well. I was working with in an Air Force command center as the attack on our homeland began. As the event progressed, I was concerned not only about the attack but also because my generals lacked answers. They stopped being generals. They had never been trained for this. Nothing was scripted. In military contingencies they practice checklist procedures over and over–with tutoring as required–until they appear to be as smart and in-control as we’d expect them to be.

But 9-11 was different. Nothing was scripted.

Seeing my senior leaders appear as confused as everyone else was initially disheartening. But it helped me to understand that there is a difference between leaders and great leaders.

Later on that infamous day, Air Force One came to our base. President Bush made an impromptu speech to the nation via our facilities.

Before he left to lead our nation’s reaction to the unprovoked attack, he talked with my generals. I wasn’t in the room, but they came out quickened. Confusion was lifted. They were not afraid. They held their heads high. They looked like generals again. They were generals again.

We are bombarded with propaganda almost daily suggesting our President is a fake, but I know better. My generals know better. George Bush is a great leader.

Now, I told you those stories so I could tell you this.

We have a presidential candidate who often uses other people’s words as his own. Here’s one example. Here’s another. In each of these Obama uses the exact words Deval Patrick used years earlier. Seeing and listening to the recordings next to each other clearly suggest something is wrong. But not everyone agrees it is wrong.

In Obama’s defense, he has said he didn’t steal these words because he was given them by Deval Patrick. They are friends and often swap words, or something like that.

But do you see anything wrong with it?

Maybe. Because it gives the impression when he is speaking that they are his words. He didn’t just put the concept in his own words, he recited the words exactly. If there’s nothing wrong with it, then its more like acting. No, it is acting. Merely reciting a script. Just words. Written by someone else. Practiced. Polished. Until they can fool most of the audience.

When Joe Biden said that Obama was “articulate” it created quite a stir in some circles. The complaint went something like since Obama was a senator–of course he was articulate. In addition, some people considered the comment to be racist. They said that Biden was suggesting Obama was somehow not expected to be able to speak well because he was black. Most Americans know by now that Obama’s father is African and his mother is not. Nevertheless, that word “articulate” is often used to describe Obama’s speech presentations both by conservatives and those who are not.

But how is he under pressure? What happens if his tele-prompter or the mic in is ear malfunctions? Here’s an example. Obama gets lost, unable to complete his presentation when his audio feed is disrupted.

The Bristol Virginia gaffe is not an isolated event. It seems there are more and more of them, but you just don’t see them on the news very often. You don’t hear much about them unless you scan YouTube or listen to talk radio. And if you do, you’d know there has been some discussion that Obama’s speech writers may have borrowed heavily from popular music lyrics for his Berlin performance. Just words.

I think actors are important. What would we do in our spare time without them?

Some folks have argued that Ronald Reagan was an actor, somehow believing the fact meant he should not have been President.  They leave out the fact that he did other things also.  Things like being Governor of California for twelve years.  That trumps the actor experience.  No one in their right mind could believe actors, even ones who pretended to be Presidents on TV or movies, are qualified to be a real president.  It would be like believing Tom Cruise is qualified to be a fighter pilot because he played Maverick in “Top Gun.”  As a more personal example, would you want Alan Alda (a.k.a. Hawkeye Pierce from M.A.S.H) performing emergency surgery on you?

Don’t be misled by practiced words that flow sweetly from the lips of pretenders. Sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference between a flim-flam man and a great leader. But much depends on your ability to do so.

If you fail in that task, the last part any of us play may be that of the disenfranchised citizen; sans money, sans property, sans freedom.

It just makes sense.

*The entire passage is:

“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms;
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lin’d,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well sav’d, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion;
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”

— (Act II, Scene VII, lines 139-166)

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