Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Big Dog Orates

There is something unparalleled about Bill Clinton's oratorical skills. He has nearly perfect intonation, inflection, dramatic pause and timing, rhythm, and proper grammar when he speaks, the likes of which I have almost never seen. [Who else can correctly use the first person plural "we" at the end of a comparative sentence -- i.e. "to be fair to all the Americans who aren't as hard-core Democrats as we" -- and make it sound so natural?] The only person that maybe rivals his public speaking skills is Barack Obama himself, but even Obama sometimes stumbles. Bill Clinton almost never does. I can't say that I'm 100% happy with the Big Dog's performance on the campaign trail over the past 7 months for Hillary's campaign, but, damn, his "speechifying" is good! If you missed his speech at the Democratic Convention, check it out below, paying close attention to all those little things that make him perhaps the finest speechmaker in modern American politics:

Oh, and John Kerry wasn't half bad either. In fact, his speech was really quite inspired.

Maybe it's just my fickle imagination, but the Democrats who are leading the Democratic Party today are simply the best political orators by far. There's no one in the GOP, absolutely no one, that can even come close to rivalling the Democrats' best public speakers these days.


Pistolette said...

Bill Clinton is much better than Obama at speaking without a script. If the teleprompter died, Clinton could ad lib his way out of it. Unfortunately, I've seen Obama freak too many times without a script :-\

Eric said...

I thought Biden's speech was the best of the convention so far. When he started talking about his mom sending him back out in the street to give the bullies a bloody nose, I almost stood up and cheered for him. Then I came to my senses, realizing that he is, in fact, the bully attempting to pilfer the lunch money of anyone who looks like easy prey (read, the wealthy). ;-)

I agree with you about the Dems being better speakers, in most cases (they just sound lousy when they talk about defense, even when they do it with eloquence). It is frustrating for me. The GOP really hasn't had a great orator since Reagan, and it has hurt them over the long run. I believe this is because the GOP has moved away from the libertarian roots of Goldwater and Reagan, roots which are chock full of ideas that lend themselves to eloquent and stirring rhetoric that speaks directly to the heart of most Americans.

Nowadays the GOP has three major speaking points: Defense, fiscal conservatism, and social conservatism. The GOP are much better than the Dems when they talk about national defense (the sole reason Bush was re-elected). After that, they fall off the chart quickly. No matter what they say on fiscal responsibility, they no longer have the credibility necessary to give any psychic weight to their rhetoric. And when modern conservatives prosletyse for social conservatism it just sounds preachy, and nobody enjoys being preached to by an elected official.

Huck said...

pistolette - Thanks for the comment. When Barack is on (which is much more often than not), he is great. I think the teleprompter crutch is a bit of a myth, as I have seem Obama do quite well on the stump giving an impromptu speech. And where Obama very often outshines Bill Clinton is in the rhythmic delivery of a speech. Obama, when he's on, knows how to work up an intoxicating combination of crescendos, pauses, retreats, etc., in the rhythm of a speech that can stir the emotions much better than the Big Dog.

But, even though Obama has good and bad speech days, Bill Clinton almost never does. He is masterful regardless of the circumstances. And even when the Big Dog goes off script, what he says and how he says it is generally perfect in timing, delivery, and tone.

Huck said...

eric - great points. I will admit that there was a time when the GOP had some very effective speakers. Reagan was well-deserving of the title "the Great Communicator." The one little critical angle I'd throw at your note about when Republicans seem to be better communicators on defense matters: I think what you call better performance is really nothing more than tough guy posturing. Maybe speaking about defense and security issues requires "tough guy posturing" -- the kind of bully language that you liked about Biden's speech -- but I wouldn't say that it great oratory. It's primarily based on raw emotions of fear, insecurity, and perhaps even revenge. In some ways, I think it's intellectually empty. And this gets at the excellent point you made about what I think is the real deficiency in Republican public speaking these days: its absence of real ideas as the foundation for its rhetoric. The GOP's problem in terms of communicating is that it has, unfortunately, hitched its wagon to the vacuous screaming heads of folks like Limbaugh, Savage, Hannity, and O'Reilly. And now there is almost no room for thoughtful, conservative thinkers in the GOP to be able to compete with this: if they aren't able to bloviate like Limbaugh, they are essentially unelectable.

Eric said...

"I think what you call better performance is really nothing more than tough guy posturing."

Likely so... while there is more to it than simple posturing, simply stated, Republican politicians are much better than Democrats at advertising their willingness to be the tough guy. However, it is still a performance, and part of the whole package, and one of the most important performances the POTUS gives on the world stage. If Republican speakers are guilty of failing to tie their rhetoric to a strong foundation of ideas (and I agree it is one of their biggest oratorical weaknesses), then Democratic speakers are guilty of being unable or unwilling to communicate their willingness to cut an intellectual knot and do what is necessary to make Americans feel safe, which is the primary duty of government. That's why Biden's "bloody their nose" statement was so moving to me, it is the antithesis of what I expect to hear from modern Democrats when it comes to self defense.

" It's primarily based on raw emotions of fear, insecurity, and perhaps even revenge."

Well, yes, as is virtually every powerful political speech that's ever been given. If people aren't scared, insecure, or pissed off about something, what can a politicain possibly have to offer them? Even the powerful messages of Hope and Change are based on people's fear that there is no hope for the long term prospects of our country and their insecurity about our ability to change the political structure in Washington. Playing off people's fears for political gain, while perhaps callous, certainly doesn't disqualify the oratory quality of a speech.

"In some ways, I think it's intellectually empty."

And in some ways you are right, but that is part of what I am speaking to. It is so important to Democratic politicians to appear intellectual, they often forget to appear practical, or even sane. That is why Bush was able to exploit Kerry's gaffe about a "global test" so effectively in 04. Everybody knew what Kerry meant by it, which wasn't what Bush made it out to be, but it signified something deeper that is a common concern for many when it comes to electing Democrats, and they need to learn how to address this, and that might require some tough guy posturing.