The Next Great Communicator
Scott CarrollScott Carroll is a writer in Baltimore City. He is a published ghost writer of narrative nonfiction. His op-ed articles have also appeared in the Baltimore Sun and on The Health Care Blog. Following a several-year stint as business/technology consultant in the Los Angeles office of the world’s largest consulting firm, he returned home to Baltimore where he continued his comprehensive tour of the non-administrative side of the American education system, this time as a teacher, while pursuing his development into a writer. The child’s experience was both the Baltimore City public elementary schools and the premier private schools of Baltimore County, his secondary education a product of the city’s prestigious public engineering high school. The young man was Ivy League and HBCU educated at the engineering schools of Columbia University and Morgan State University, respectively, the latter of which bestowed his B.S. in Industrial Engineering. As a teacher he was a substitute for two years in one of Baltimore’s underperforming neighborhood high schools that was concurrently featured in an HBO documentary about the country’s failing schools. His experience teaching algebra and pre-calculus at one of the city’s lower-performing magnate schools rounds out the comprehensive tour.
Having lived through seemingly a full range of presidents and presidential performances over the preceding decades—from the similarly ineffective stints of an exceptionally intelligent nuclear physicist and an underachieving C-student, to the two iconic two-term performances of our time: one by a Hollywood actor and Eureka College cheerleader, the other a Rhodes Scholar—what my observations tell me is that a great communicator is most enabled to achieve a great presidency.
A great communicator—of the political sort, at least—is endowed with an uncanny instinct for the very heart of an argument, the jugular-vein point leading directly to it, and he invariably succeeds in sinking his teeth in and then tenaciously holding on until all hope in the faulty opposing argument is bled-out. He perceives linchpin words in spurious argumentation and exults in sending that whole castle of cards tumbling to the floor. Important to this endowment is not just the ability to understand in great detail the topic at hand, but an innate feeling for popular psychology, for what it is in particular that will move people’s thinking, their feelings.
Just such a communicator we have recently seen in action at the center of the most recent ridiculous brouhaha up on Capitol Hill, a standout voice in a sea of stilted and hollow political-speak. No less than the next Great Communicator, heir-apparent to William Jefferson Clinton, is what I saw, and he just happens to hail from my own home state of Maryland.
As I listened to the CSPAN radio broadcast of the House Session debate on Day One of the Government shutdown, in the background while I chopped vegetables for the night’s dinner, I heard Democrat after Democrat rise to request a vote on the Senate-passed “clean CR [continuing resolution]” that could immediately end the shutdown. I kept thinking: it has not been explained that this is not some partisan stunt, that there are more than a sufficient number of Republicans ready to join Democrats in voting for a true compromise piece of legislation for the good of the country, if only the Republican leadership will allow that compromise a vote. I understood perfectly well what was transpiring, but I also knew that to many it only appeared to be a matter of Democrats futilely asking for what they wanted just as Republicans were demanding their own preferred course of action. Some of the Democrats spoke eloquently about how it was ridiculous to help some select segments of the population when they should be helping everyone. And some Republicans spoke eloquently about how at this impasse over policy that it was unconscionable not to help some of the segments of the population and government upon which everyone could easily agree. The impression was, either way, that compromise was simply out of reach. That was when a voice cut into the debate with a parliamentary inquiry.
Through a succession of inquires of the chairperson on basic parliamentary procedure, Congressman Chris Van Hollen, Democrat from Maryland’s 8th District, was able to make it perfectly clear to the listener that the Republican effort was only a grandstanding ploy that would come to naught in the Senate while the Democrat-desired vote would result in an immediate compromise solution to be signed into law that very night by the president. He made it perfectly clear that there were sufficient Republicans supporting this compromise legislation if only Speaker Boehner would allow it a vote. “What’s he afraid of, Democracy?” asked Mr. Van Hollen a little later, when given his full opportunity to speak.
It was on Day Two of the shutdown that Congressman Van Hollen first pointed out the last-minute Republican rule change that had quietly taken away the power of any member of the House to request a vote on the Senate-passed bill and put the power squarely in the hands of the majority-party leadership. Subsequent development of this game-changing disclosure led to Mr. Van Hollen’s now famous speech ten days later—currently at three and a half million views on YouTube—in which the congressman clearly lays out the Republican rigging-of-the-rules late on September 30 that insured their ability to shut down the government despite there being sufficient votes to avoid it.
When Congressman Van Hollen, rising adept at the fine art of communication, answers an interviewer or holds forth from the congressional floor, it is never the same old talking-point-filled lazy political-speak that every other politician in Washington, and outside of it, for that matter, to my view, is invariably unable to rise above and think beyond. Like William Jefferson Clinton this young politician has a knack for the heart of the argument, and like William Jefferson Clinton he seems energized and entirely at ease in that moment under the spotlight, that moment at which most politicians can be seen, often nervously, trolling their minds for the correct talking-point to safely deliver them from the perilous moment politically unscathed.
The last five years have demonstrated how good ideas are now simply not enough, that even when one is willing to accept painful concessions in order to govern by way of compromise, the other side will still beat one senseless if they can, just because they can, just because they feel that politically they are supposed to—government and country be damned! Effective governing, now more than ever, demands an effective communicator to cut through the inevitable web of spurious argumentation in order to move public opinion just enough. I say, Hail to the next Great Communicator, Congressman Chris Van Hollen! I look forward to this rising young politician’s contributions in the coming years, hopeful for some sort of ameliorating effect on the current college-fraternity climate of the most ridiculous self-interested, country-damning intransigence. Hail!
Scroll to the bottom of the page to view the video of Congressman Van Hollen’s speech.