The Art of Speechification (Pretty Words)

Speeches at the DNC and RNC are, for the most part, terribly formulaic. Humans are very adept at finding patterns in the “noise,” so it becomes easy for us to tune out speeches that sound like broken records. Here’s the general template for a political rabble rouser:

  • Personal introduction with pleasing anecdote.
  • Possible attempt at humor (usually not well received).
  • Call/Response of some pithy catch phrase created in order to gain audience participation.
  • Small mention of the political candidate that the speech is (ostensibly) about.
  • Another personal anecdote: family/religion/war/all of the above.
  • (Raise volume of voice) “And the next president will be … “

That’s about it. The formulas work so well because the speeches really do not hold any information that matters. If you were to examine most of the speeches from the RNC, you would find that they did not hold much information that was important for listeners to actually know. There were incredible appeals to emotion, yes. These were effective moments! If that is what the audience really needed to hear, then there would be nothing to complain about.

These moments, however, were not nearly enough. We deserve substantive content. Appeals to emotion can only take you so far in the real world. Although they are pleasing, they are not useful. They are worthless. How can the public make an informed decision if they are not informed? Sure, the Republicans have (deserved) differences between themselves and Democrats. That’s why the parties exist. But why did they not discuss actual plans for the future, aside from broad strokes? It should have been better.

What, then, did Mitt Romney deliver during his RNC keynote? This:

To quote from FactCheck.org (source on link):

In a speech heavy on anecdotal history but short on policy details, Mitt Romney avoided major falsehoods in making his case to the American public while accepting the presidential nomination at the Republican National Convention.

In essence, Mitt Romney gave the formulaic speech. The safe speech. Although this is not bad, it is not good. He managed to give a speech without a bevy of lies (much unlike his running-mate) and was then praised for his comparative truthiness. If I have ever seen a case of damning with faint praise, this is clearly it.

The American public deserves information and reason, not rhetoric and emotion. The rub, though, is that the Republican base located at the RNC truly enjoyed the complete lack of information in favor of rabble-rousing Americanisms. Do we not deserve better than blatant lies (Ryan) and avoidance of truths (Romney)?

In contrast, I present to you Bill Clinton’s speech:

To quote from FactCheck.org:

Former President Bill Clinton’s stem-winding nomination speech was a fact-checker’s nightmare: lots of effort required to run down his many statistics and factual claims, producing little for us to write about.

Republicans will find plenty of Clinton’s scorching opinions objectionable. But with few exceptions, we found his stats checked out.

President Clinton managed to give an (albeit lengthy) speech about the real issues through use of actual facts. He spoke to his audience — not down to them. The patented Republican Rosy Glasses of Yesteryear were gone as Clinton took a brazen path forward in a mission to educate the American public about Obama’s presidency. Although this was only a necessity because of the sheer amount of misinformation that is being transmitted through the Republican party, it was still a brilliant exercise in speech-giving.

Clinton has always been a strong speech-giver, and this keynote was a perfect example of his style. He respects his audience. He assumes that they are capable of rational thought, not just emotional knee-jerkage (‘MERICA). The tone, therefore, was elevated while also being inclusive.

Does it matter how well President Obama does tonight during his speech? Not really. All he needs to do is ride the wave created by Clinton and some of the other speakers into a charismatic finale. I fully expect a Clinton-esque level of discourse with a usual smattering of crowd-pleasing one-liners. Whether he makes the grade does not matter at this point — the tone and legacy of this DNC has already been established through its strong difference of the RNC.

Though it is difficult for me, I am attempting to step back from my party in order to compare the conventions. Truly, the DNC is a far better representation of what the American population needs in order to move forward as a democratic body than the RNC was. The message was more positive. There was no old man yelling at a chair.

What does it mean about the election? Probably not very much. This is not an election about the middle, unfortunately. It is an election about turn-out.

Vote.
I don’t care who you vote for.
Just vote.

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