“Nothing is so unbelievable that oratory cannot make it acceptable.”
“It is terrible to speak well and be wrong.”
Those of us who have worked first-hand at speechwriting (my experience was corporate, not political) understand what goes into a CEO/senior management speech, how it is assembled, how it must touch the audience or articulate a particular point of view or policy.
Sometimes there’s a lot of research, analyzing the audience, and talking to subject-matter experts. Of course, the speakers have input (unless it’s a ceremonial speech, which the speech writer sometimes manufactures out of whole cloth): they’re taking responsibility for the words they utter. They speak for themselves as well as for their organizations.
Once a draft is produced, there’s review, revision – two or more (usually more) new versions – until we’ve got it right. Then, if there’s time, rehearsal, unless the speaker is already pretty familiar with the material.
A whole lotta work
An effective high-level speech is a lot of work. But it’s worth it.
For a minimal time investment, the audience gets something of value, some meaningful insight into the thoughts and actions of the CEO or the President, something they didn’t know before, something they’ll remember.
And a speaker, particularly a President or other luminary, gets a cornucopia of speaking opportunities, each one a chance to advance his/her agenda and alter the way the audience thinks, feels, or behaves.
Truly the bulliest of Bully Pulpits!
That’s why those of us who know the power and complexity of rhetoric now sigh with relief at the anticipated demise of Presidential tweets. Yes, Trump will continue to tweet, but they won’t be from the President.
Face it; the man is never going away. And I write this with all due respect for his many tangible accomplishments, which were, unfortunately, offset and outweighed by his wretched character flaws. Were it not for these, he could have harnessed the power of rhetoric and been a truly inspirational leader.
As it was, his scripted speeches were workmanlike, showed no input from him, and were read in an unenthusiastic, fading drone, like a sermon. Countless opportunities squandered. Countless potential audiences ignored. He could have even reached out to Democrats, instead of antagonizing them. How about a speech that explains how his policies are good for all Americans? I’d write that one.
Instead, we got ego-bursts from an adolescent, spewed out over a platform for adolescents, originally just a micro-blog, but now de rigeur for anybody who aspires to be somebody. Everyone who is anyone now tweets (not me), and their tweets make the news.
Tantrums and more
But Trump’s output went well beyond carefully thought out statements, however brief. We got temper tantrums (WITH ALL CAPS!!!), revelation of classified information, and all sorts of unfiltered messages from the child-king’s unfettered ego. And in short snippets too. No extended thought necessary. Nothing that taxes his notoriously short attention span (or ours).
A new, degrading model
Trump’s a marketer. He knows the power of mass communications. He and Twitter go together like peanut butter and jelly.
Tweeting is a new model that completely degrades Presidential communication. Trump doesn’t understand that “presidential” doesn’t mean “pompous.” Confronting one audience with a choice of character, he said, “Of course, I could be more ‘Presidential.’ Ladies and gentlemen…” and puts on a fake pomposity. But that’s “boring” – a mortal sin in the Age of Tweet.
Definition of “presidential” rhetoric
No, Donald, “Presidential” means articulate (no spelling errors), clear, coherent, informed (not everything that springs from his genius brain is a gem), focused on “audience value” (he always has an audience of just one), and on-message (some are, but most are rambling rants and strung-together applause lines).
A blank slate
Now the pendulum has swung in the other direction. Intellectually, politically, in every way, Biden is a blank slate. Plus, he is so bereft of originality that he plagiarized another man’s autobiography, unlike Obama and Clinton, who were verbal (could construct two or more complete thoughts in a row) but verbose (able to spout clouds of nice-sounding but meaningless nonsense; I am not the first to observe that Obama, who thought he was his own best speechwriter, is a master at saying nothing eloquently).
Biden is neither verbal nor verbose. He’ll need a lot of help.
So let’s get some good speechwriters in there, some people who can do for Biden what Peggy Noonan did for Reagan. It’ll be a challenge: Reagan was much better than Biden at reading a script.
As a lifelong libertarian, I can’t find much common ground with the Democrats. But as a speech writer, I look forward to serious Presidential addresses that are relevant, articulate, simple, substantive, coherent, audience-focused, and on-message (I would also add “and free of political propaganda and BS,” but that’s too much to hope for).
No more childish outbursts on your cell phone. Real speeches!