Humility Is Underrated and the Founding Father's Knew It

The values of the Founding Fathers are a GOP favorite, and Cruz and Trump are firm believers -- hence why they both continuously pillage from America's early presidents as a way to prove their constitutional purity.

Both men also dream that they'll soon be penning Inaugural Addresses (hands-up all those who suspect Cruz has already written one), so with today being Thomas Jefferson's birthday, let's direct the GOP front-runners to the opening lines of the Inaugural Address of Thomas Jefferson himself, delivered on March 1st, 1801.

I suspect that rhetorically speaking, neither Cruz nor Trump would be particularly comfortable quoting from Jefferson's opening paragraph:

... the task is above my talents, and I approach it with the anxious and awful presentiments which the greatness of the charge and the weakness of my powers so justly inspire... I shrink from the contemplation, and humble myself before the magnitude of the undertaking.

Utterly, indeed, should I despair did not the presence of many whom I here see... who are charged with the sovereign functions of legislation, and to those associated with you, I look with encouragement for that guidance and support which may enable us to steer with safety the vessel in which we are all embarked amidst the conflicting elements of a troubled world.

Jefferson started his presidency with a sweeping downplay of his own fitness for the job. He was using the rhetorical technique of modesty to appeal to the goodwill of the audience and the nation.

Were the words sincere? Unlikely. Modesty, false modesty, has been an element of great speeches since the times of the ancient Greeks. Sincere or not however, isn't it refreshing when compared to the bluster of today's candidates?

Opening up with a statement of modesty is inclusive. It's an attempt at downplaying the individual in order that the collective can come come to the fore. That's precisely what Jefferson was aiming for as he appealed for "guidance and support" from the "many charged with the sovereign functions of legislation."

Wherever you find a deliberate appeal to modesty in a speech, an appeal to bipartisanship and collaboration will never be far behind. Quite different from appealing with the words "I'm rich and I'm running for president."

There are clearly lessons from the Founding Fathers that today's frontrunners have still to learn.

Peter Paskale is a committed word-nerd, communications coach, and co-author of The Dirty Rhetoric Toolkit for writers and presenters.