Speechifying

Ezra Klein:

No one can humanize policy like [Bill] Clinton. The speech he offered could have been a joint release from the Economic Policy Institute and the Center for American Policy foreign affairs department. But somehow, when Clinton reads it, policy slips free of the weighty terms and looping sentences that press it down, and drifts upward to read easily as part of the human condition, engaged with our everyday experience. It’s a remarkable skill, and one that no other current politician possesses.

Precisely. I was deeply impressed by Bill Clinton’s speech last night, even as I was mystified:  How can this speech work so well?

I was a preacher for four years, which meant writing and delivering a message every week, 50 weeks out of 52. So I know something about constructing an effective speech.

For a comparison to Clinton, consider the Governor of Montana, Brian Schweitzer. Schweitzer delivered the only effective speech (other than Hillary Clinton’s) on Tuesday evening. But it reminded me a little of a high school pep rally. Something that the head of the Boys’ Athletic Association might deliver, stirring up his fellow teenagers to celebrate a winning football season.

It was a good speech in all the conventional ways. Then Bill comes out the next night, and mostly talks policy:

Look at the example the Republicans have set:  American workers have given us consistently rising productivity. They’ve worked harder and produced more. What did they get in return? Declining wages, less than a quarter as many new jobs as in the previous eight years, smaller healthcare and pension benefits, rising poverty and the biggest increase in income inequality since the 1920s.

American families by the millions are struggling with soaring healthcare costs and declining coverage. I will never forget the parents of children with autism and other severe conditions who told me on the campaign trail that they couldn’t afford healthcare and couldn’t qualify their kids for Medicaid unless they quit work or got a divorce. Are these the family values the Republicans are so proud of?

What about the military families pushed to the breaking point by unprecedented multiple deployments? What about the assault on science and the defense of torture? What about the war on unions and the unlimited favors for the well connected? What about Katrina and cronyism?

America can do better than that. And Barack Obama will.

OK, there was more to the speech than that. But there was a lot of policy embedded in the text; and (unlike Schweitzer’s speech) it was delivered in a very conversational cadence; yet still, somehow, it was electrifying.

btw, John Kerry’s speech was also exceptionally good. I realize most people consider it torture to sit through a series of speeches, but the Democratic convention has risen to some lofty heights, at times.

Other speeches have been iredeemably boring. The question is, Why is one speech effective while another is a soporific?

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. JewishAtheist
    Aug 28, 2008 @ 15:19:13

    Clinton is brilliant at articulating the Democratic vision of the world that underlies all of these policies. Rather than complaining about declining wages in isolation, for example, he contrasts it with rising productivity. That changes the issue from one that might be seen as “class warfare” to one of fairness. He says, this is wrong, and we can make it right, not “If you elect us, we’ll give you candy!”

    Reply

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