Needed — The Poetry of Persuasion

As a lawyer, there’s a lot about the movie The Verdict (1982) I don’t particularly like, even as I bow respectfully to Paul Newman’s superb portrayal of Frank Galvin, as a down-on-his-luck and up-on-the-bottle lawyer. For one thing, the film’s representation of the litigation process is a crock. To give just one example, Galvin’s dramatic closing argument would have been objectionable in a court of law from start to finish.

Yet, here of late, as I’ve been trying to find some way for liberals to tap into the ocean of discontent rising within the American electorate, I find my mind drifting back to Galvin’s words during that courtroom speech,

Galvin: Well…You know, so much of the time we’re just lost. We say, “Please, God, tell us what is right. Tell us what is true.”

I mean there is no justice. The rich win; the poor are powerless. We become tired of hearing people lie. And after a time we become dead, a little dead. We think of ourselves as victims — and we become victims. We become weak; we doubt ourselves; we doubt our beliefs; we doubt our institutions; and we doubt the law.

But today you are the law. You are the law, not some book, not the lawyers, not a marble statue, or the trappings of the court. See, those are just symbols of our desire to be just. They are, in fact, a prayer,

I mean a fervent and a frightened prayer.

In my religion, they say, “Act as if you had faith; faith will be given to you.”

If we are to have faith in justice we need only to believe in ourselves and act with justice. See, I believe there is justice in our hearts.

(You can listen to it from the movie soundtrack here.)

Think about it for a minute — no, don’t think — feel it for a minute. Isn’t that it? Change a few words, of course — change “law” to “political process,” “book” to “politician,” “lawyers” to “lobbyists” and “court” to “capital.”

Isn’t that the message we need to be offering? Modern politics has become soooooo professional, so focus grouped and triangulated. Have we lost sight completely of the power of the poetry of persuasion?

Political professionals spend so much time these days talking about how scared people are, scared of terrorists in airplanes, and scared of angry people in far off places with beliefs we don’t understand. And they’re right, of course, people are scared. How could they help but be scared, given a national government run by people who maintain power almost entirely by expertly exploiting those fears?

But fear isn’t the only emotion Americans are feeling today related to their government. Perhaps even more, they feel numb — numbness that itself grows out of a sense of helplessness. They see nothing but corruption, incompetence and an almost unbelievable smallness in their government, and, perhaps even more sadly, in the entire democratic process. But they have no idea how to change it, and, except for a few braves souls largely ignored by the major media, no one is talking to them in these terms.

I know many political professionals will think it’s naïve, but I strongly believe that the American people are waiting, desperate even, to be inspired. They want to hear that they have nothing to fear but fear itself and, for that matter, that it’s morning again in America.

Come on Democrats, take a chance: Can a political operative or two and replace them with a poet, a philosopher or even a dreamer, or at least a political operative who’s capable of appreciating poetry, philosophy and dreaming. Stop just parroting what the opinion polls tell you people want to hear, and start saying some of the things their hearts are telling them they need to hear.

People don’t have to be small all the time, they really don’t. In fact, I think that just may be the biggest lie of them all: Americans aren’t just about tax cuts and zero sacrifice politics. They do care about their children, and what sort of world they will live in. They do care about the environment. They do care about justice.

America hasn’t lost its greatness. It’s lost the leadership needed to take it there.

And who knows? Maybe a fictitious, washed up lawyer named Frank Galvin can help us to find it again.

8 Responses to “Needed — The Poetry of Persuasion”

  1. iowametal76 Says:

    It seemed like Dr. Dean was doing this back in 2004…

    …until the media sabotaged his chances at even having a chance. One enthusiastic “wooohooo” and all of a sudden he’s a nutjob.

  2. hizzhoner Says:

    I was raised in the South where eloquence was mandatory for a politician. I was told that a good politician could tell his opponent to “go to hell” with such a rhetorical flurry that the opponent would actually look forward to the trip.

    I miss that.

    I miss the men (and women) who moved me emotionally and intellectually.

    I miss the soaring eloquence that raised me up from my squalid surroundings and transported me to a place of beauty.

    Where are the dreamers?


  3. spiderwoman Says:

    Wish I could agree that it’s simply a matter of America losing its leadership. Sadly, though, it’s much worse than that. It’s lost its people. Without people with passion, who would look about themselves, see what was wrong, and do something about it - like elect real leaders - there can be no real leadership.

    The base of the problem is in the people who manipulate the people - the corporations. They have used money to twist and manipulate the system and people for decades. They have created a school system designed not to develop children’s best potential, but to do the opposite, to dumb them down, to make them into good slaves and consumers. It has been successful.

    We now have a populace that, even if it sees some of the truth - such as the fact that the president is lying - cannot think clearly enough to deduce that the media must be party to helping the lying continue. So, the people believe what the media tells them, even knowing that it must not be true, and vote according to the manipulation.

    What I miss aren’t great leaders. I miss great people. The lack of dreaming exists at the very core of society. The lack of dreamers in leadership is merely symptomatic of it.

  4. juliinjax Says:

    Dear Steven,
    Wholeheartedly agree. It’s not enough to be against something. People need something to be for. Americans are unique in that we do have a very diverse population, with many differences among us, but we are all united in wanting a better future for ourselves and for our children and grandchildren, AND we believe that America is the Nation capable of providing the opporunities for this future. What does the USA have that makes people all over the world look to US for hope? We have the Bill of Rights, which enforces our Rule of Law, and guarantees that all are to be treated equally under the law. Yes, we’ve seen how that rule of law has been perverted and abused, and even ignored in the past 5 years, but it is still the ideal we must all strive for. We also have the physical resources of many of the undeveloped third world countries, combined with the technology to convert the resources to use for our citizens. Again, these resources are being exploited and wasted daily, but with the right drive and dream, we could, as a nation, become the leaders of new technologies that would focus on preserving AND restoring the worlds resources,and improving the quality of life for all the world’s citizens. The Amertican dream should be refocussed on World Citizenship. That is a drem that all Americans could be proud of and join in: working to find ways to save our planet, end hunger, homelessness and preventable illness. I see this hope in my 9 year old daughter’s eyes. She refuses to be pessimistic about the future. She is an American girl, and we owe to her and her cohorts all the strength and determination we can muster, to make real the dreams she has for a more peaceful and sustainable future.

  5. alwayshope Says:

    I am here

    I’m not afraid, I am angry.
    I’m not confused, I am clear.
    I’m not fed up, I am hungry,
    I’m not going anywhere, I am here.

    I embody the American spirit.
    Of fairness and courage and pride.
    I see the truth and I don’t fear it.
    When threatened I don’t run and hide.

    I call a lie, a damn lie,
    I’m decent and honest and true.
    I want to live life until I die,
    And I want the same for you.

    I want our children to have the things
    That belong only to our nation;
    Our forests and cool mountain springs,
    Lands filled with God’s creation.

    I’m not hesitant, I can’t wait.
    I’m not alone, there are others.
    We aren’t unilateral. We don’t hate.
    We pray for our sisters and brothers.

    I’m a freedom loving American
    I will not live in fear,
    I’m a voter , I am a woman.
    I’m not going anywhere, I am here.

  6. Larry the Red Says:

    Dear Steve,
    I, too, beleive that the American people want to be inspired, by a vision, a dream, an appeal to our better angels, perhaps now more than ever. But that inspiration has to be grounded in making some fundamental changes in our political and economic systems. Most fundamentally, I think we absolutely must put people first. Inspire people with the idea that the government is YOU, but only if you step up and take responsibility for it. This requires taking the money out of politics, through mandatory public financing of political campaigs, starting at the federal level. Second, and relatedly, it means scrapping the nonsensical and deeply undemocratic notin that “corporations are people, too.” Being a lawyer, you know just how pernicious and dangerous that notion really is. It will probably take constitutional amendments to make these changes a reality. So be it - elect congresspeoplke to get them through Congress, and then do battle, state by state, until they pass. Do these two things - empower people by disabling the corrupt campaing financing system that now exists and put corporations in their rightful place - and a lot of other things become possible.

    The series with which you opened this website was to me inspirational; and a call to arms. I know I’m not alone, as other commentators here demonstrate. Thanks, and keep up the great work. To all readers - spread the word - it is your patriotic duty.

  7. Chuck Says:


    Unfortunately I have to agree with you. We need to teach passionate compassion, we need to teach how to think on one’s own, but we also need a great leader. Sometimes, it seems to me, we have to have an authority figure to push us in the right direction, like a great parent. (Though I hate that analogy, I can’t think of another one of the top of my head.)

  8. juliinjax Says:

    Here’s an older poem, written in2003:
    Halliburton, Bechtel, Brown & Root

    Tunneling through piles of gold
    Trolls gather to plan their evening meal
    Enlisted by the Evil One
    They know their bellies will be full
    They’ll dine off silver platters
    While warriors choke on dust
    They’ll count their coins into the night
    While corpses pile up out of sight
    They’ll pick clean their teeth with the bones
    And smile for the cameras, laughing,
    Jingling past tombstones,
    All the way to the bank.

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