Wednesday, February 18, 2004


Just an observation...I heard Howard Dean's "I'm sorta not running for President anymore" speech on the radio the day after the Wisconsin Primary.

Did anyone else notice how staccato and robotic his speech sounded? It seemed as if he were reading from a lagging teleprompter. It was just a bit creepy.

While on the subject I suppose it is as good a time as any to lament the absence of well developed oratory skills on the part of any of the candidates with a partial exemption to Al Sharpton. I give Sharpton a partial exemption because he does have a potentially powerful oratorical style. However, the Reverend also has some serious grammar issues, among a plethora of other issues, that affect his credibility.

As much respect as I have for Joe Lieberman, his oratorical style is sincere but, I believe, best suited for a living room chat. Dean is all over the map. And Kerry...oh my goodness, Kerry is just absolutely ponderous. I just cannot imagine hearing that voice over and over for the next too many months before the election. (By the way, my opinion is that our election process runs too long as well...I like the parliamentary advantage that can set elections six weeks from now and be done with it....but that is another posting.) I haven't heard Edwards speak enough to have an opinon yet...although I hear a moderate Southern accent. I'm from the South...although I've lived all over...and if I hear it, I wonder how it plays in Peoria.

Don't get the wrong idea...although I'm generally a fan of President Bush I don't think he is much of an orator either. He has a very choppy delivery that I believe would work in an interactive conversation over appetizers at Chi-Chi's. It doesn't work very well for speeches. To his credit I believe he has progressed over his years as President. He used to be worse. Still, some day I hope he will learn to pronounce "nuclear". (Les Aspin, President Clinton's first Secretary of Defense had the same problem.)

I think it is sad. Because I know that for a portion of the audience the difference between listening and daydreaming can be found in the speaker's oratorical skills. Look at the successful ministers with the largest congregations. My generation flocked to listen to Billy Graham...and granted he's got superb material....but if Howard Dean tried to deliver Rev. Graham's material I suspect there would be fewer souls saved as a result.

Now, my friend Sarah may take me to task over this as she is no fan of the British accent...but accent notwithstanding, I find that Tony Blair is a fine orator. He speaks with rhythm...with an ear that provides accurate feedback as to how he comes across. He speaks eloquent English using well crafted phrases, appropriate alliteration and appealing inflections. It is a trait I admire. When he speaks, I listen. I don't know if you've ever watched a session of Parliament on television, but it is an amazing thing. The opposition stands on one side of a table and asks a question of the Prime Minister (who holds this remarkably huge book to which he never seems to refer). The Prime Minister will then rise and respond. It appears to me to be entirely unscripted...and perhaps that is the source of Mr. Blair's eloquence. He speaks his own words.

I've done much public speaking over the years and developed a reputation for having an engaging style. I learned early on, however, that it is an intense process. I found if I tried to present material written by others I was a huge flop. The words have to be my own before I am able to effectively communicate.

Perhaps it is that so many of our politicians employ speech writers and those speech writers do not write in the speakers natural words and rhythms that has banished effective oratory from this campaign. To be honest, I believe the progress I attribute to the President over the last 3 years might actually belong to his speechwriters learning his natural rhythms and timing.

I'm certain that oratory is an underrated skill these days. And I concede it might have less of an impact as the sound bite has supplanted the presentation (at least in the US media). But my father was an English major and gave to me a love for the lilt of the language. I find that love goes unfulfilled in this election season.

No comments: