It worries me that I don't mind listening to Obama. I don't mean what he actually says, of course, which is either airy nonsense or garden variety hyper-liberal utopianism, but his manner of talking. As he talks, he actually seems to be translating current thoughts into words, to be engaging in what we used to call conversation. He doesn't yell. His voice rises and falls at appropriate moments. He has humor. He benefits from possession of a pleasantly modulated, mellifluous voice that tends to calm and sooth rather than to excite.
Compare that to the speech patterns of those inflicted on us by recent history, as either presidents or would-be presidents.
In the late 70's I had to turn off any electronic device that brought the sanctimonious, unctuous Carter into my house. My skin crawled when he spoke.
I grabbed just about as quickly for the power switch when the humorless, trite, lethally boring Mondale or Dukakis started to talk.
Reagan, of course, was a brief exception -- a man America liked to listen to -- but that was a long time ago, and even Reagan, in the later years of his presidency, as he aged, had his problems without a written text.
Bush Senior never encountered a thought he couldn't mangle in English, so actually listening to him was not only like work, but unpleasant.
The raspy-voiced Clinton (Bill), contrary to popular myth, was also a hard listen, not just because he usually seemed to be recovering from bronchitis, but because he was always cutting too fine a point and bloviating a one minute thought into a thirty minute verbal assault. And in the latter stages of his presidency, of course, his infamously loathsome conduct made one immediately wonder, when his voice was heard, whether the women-folk were safely inside the house and the silverware secured.
Gore, so far as I'm aware, has never really talked at all, rather, he has yelled, raged and fulminated, an unfailingly loud, angry and desperate-seeming man -- attacks of nervousness and temporary hearing loss were always risks when he was on, so with him, too, people tended to move the dial to the "off" position.
Kerry was so flat-out nauseating when he spoke it was hard to keep food down; no event, however serious, up to and including the end of the universe, could possibly warrant all that faux Brahmin-accented, relentlessly ponderous, fake gravity.
Clinton (Hillary) may well have lost the nomination because of her unfortunate speaking voice, combined with her curse of invariably sounding rehearsed and false; but mostly it was the voice, grating, harsh, vocal chords all used up, a mediocre mezzo ten years past advisable retirement.
And then there is our present President. This is hard for me, because I genuinely like and respect the man, and I admire his major decisions, choices and policies. To me he is an enormously sympathetic figure, especially now, in the final agony of his unfairly pilloried presidency. Posterity will be much kinder to him than his contemporaries have been. Kinder to him, I said, not to his use of language. He can't talk extemporaneously. Period. He admits it, jokes about it and there are no dissenters from this truth.
In sum, it's been a long time since the White House occupant, or anyone with a serious chance of becoming one, has been easy to listen to. As long as one disregards what he's actually saying, which, as I say, many normal people automatically do when listening to a politician, Obama is pretty easy on the ears. This salutary gift, and the personal likeability that comes with it, is going to be a considerable asset in his coming struggle against (yet another) verbally challenged Republican.
Sure Obama is affable. But he obviously calculates each and every word, and I very quickly found his "student council president/too cool for this room" shtick to be tiresome in the extreme. Especially since it is mostly content-free, and the trace levels of content that is there is highly objectionable.