Tuesday, June 19, 2007

boring speeches

This slate article discusses the overuse of cliche and meaningless language in political speech. A sample:
The truth, of course, is that political campaigns get interesting only when the candidates stop speaking in ringing generalities and infuriating phrases, which doesn't mean that they therefore become successful or even good for the country. Sen. John McCain's 2000 campaign appealed precisely because he eschewed pre-prepared gobbledygook—though that wasn't enough even to win the Republican nomination.
While I am quick to point out the art of political speech, I think the writer has a point here. Indeed, my memorable introduction to the difference between the art of rhetoric and the art of poetry came when I attempted to analyze a political speech for the beauty of the language. While some speeches certainly have a beauty of rhythm and image, the training I had from English Department New Critics (the irony of calling this method new criticism is that to me it is the oldest) did not suffice. While truly great political speeches create new paradigms, inspire, and persuade, the vast majority, perhaps, aim simply to not alienate anyone. Especially in a media environment that searches for a good clip, repeating phrases that are generally agreeable seem to be in a candidates interest.

Is this sad or just the way of things? Is there a way to train the public to wade through the tired cliches and discover policy differences? Can politicians find a way to grab attention without ruining their ethos?

8 comments:

Morgan said...

This administration has certainly perfected the art of using political mumbo jumbo to sound like they know what's going on without ever actually saying anything. Ugh.

I saw Clinton speak at OSU's commencement a couple weekends ago, and I'd have to say my biggest reaction was "I miss him."

Anonymous said...

Oh, Clinton is silver tongued, that's for sure. But are we supposed to listen to what he says or watch what he does?

bethany said...

I'll take what Clinton said AND did over creating an international disaster. Stop offending me without signing your name.

jimmy said...

But are we supposed to listen to what he says or watch what he does?

Let's try both. What Clinton did was bring the American economy to the best place it had been in decades, all the while dealing with a Republican Party that was willing to use every ethical and unethical means at its disposal to bring him down. Sure, he didn't muster the will in Congress to fix health care (which we're paying for now), and he didn't do enough on world poverty, and he didn't do too much to stem the overwhelming power of corporations, but he did a hell of a lot - and unlike the current occupant of the office, managed to not screw up everything he ever touched.

Of course, you don't want to talk about that. You don't want to talk about jobs created, or a post-cold-war environment successfully navigated, or humanitarian successes in Kosovo and Bosnia. You don't want to engage in a reasonable, intelligent discussion with evidence and facts and such. You're just interested in displaying your ignorance with a drive-by post, to which you're even too chicken to sign your own name, and leaving.

But that isn't the point of Bethany's post, and you know it. Please stop hijacking her blog to show off the fact that you're a jackass - or at the very least, please have the courage to sign your name to what you say.

Anonymous said...

Talk about opening a can of worms! Okay, my name is Lee Baker, but I guess some might prefer to call me Jackass. I'm not a registered blogger, which is why I don't have an account.

What I find interesting is that in response to a comment about Clinton, I'm personally attacked by the bloggers. I think it is possible to discuss politics (or anything else, for that matter) without attacking each other personally. But if you don't care to have a discourse, that's okay too.

You assume that because I'm a Clinton critic that I am a Bush lover. I think that was a hasty assumption. Bill Clinton is, as I observed, an eloquent, convincing, and charming speaker. He is also a liar (Lewinsky), a thief (they even pillaged Air Force One), and in my opinion, a felon (Vince Foster a suicide? I think not). I am glad Clinton is out of the White House. And I don't want to see Hillary become President on her husband's coattails.

Bethany, I never intended to offend you. You were discussing speeches, and my reponse was on that note. And, by the way, kudos to you on running a blog that elicits such emotional responses from your readers.

Morgan, there are times when I too, miss Bill Clinton. I don't hate him; he's a child of God, same as the rest of us. But I don't see him as a virtuous man, and I do believe his administration contributed mightily to the international mess we find ourselves in today.

Jimmy, I think you should go anonymous until you can control your manners.

bethany said...

Lee - sorry to overwhelm you. I welcome discussion, but get a little peeved when someone posts tangentially and a bit condescendingly without any context of who this person is. And then I complain to my boyfriend who, uh, starts a fight. You can use the "other" option to leave your name in the future.
I still maintain that the lies of the Judicial department alone in this administration and the continued kickbacks to the oil industry and military-industrial complex dwarf any sins of the Clinton admin or Clinton as a man.
Regardless, this post was about how political talk got so jumbled in the first place - something perhaps we can track back to Washington. Or at least Webster.

jimmy said...

First, let's clear up one thing: You had a choice. You could have signed your name at any time by simply hitting "enter" twice at the end of your comment and then typing your name. It's a very simple thing to do, and it goes a long way in making you look less like a drive-by poster and more like a serious commenter. (A serious, insightful comment would have gone a long way in this regard as well, but obviously you couldn't do that.) You chose not to sign your name to your post.

Second, you were personally attacked not because you attacked Bill Clinton - there are certainly intelligent arguments that could be made in criticism of his presidency, and I made a few of them - but because you attacked him with an old, hackneyed two-sentence non-argument, in a post unrelated to the subject at hand, and didn't sign your name to the post. There's about a mile's difference between making a reasonable argument and making a two-sentence pithy statement that seems designed to incite anger.

Third, regarding the content of your post, let's look at the facts. Not inferences, not unproven allegations, facts. I'll address them in order of importance.

First, the most serious fact: The death of Vince Foster was ruled a suicide by four separate investigations including that of Kenneth Starr - and if you don't think Starr would have jumped in a millisecond on any possibility that it wasn't a suicide, you're deluding yourself. It is completely irresponsible to even so much as allege that Vince Foster met his end by means of foul play, given the mass of evidence and the amount of investigation that went into his death. You're free to believe whatever you want about his death, but you should know that you believe this against the testimony of every single trustworthy source.

Next, the absurd: President Bush himself denied that anything was taken from Air Force one. Five minutes on google were enough to find the facts on this one.

Now, the meaningless: lying about sex. What a distraction that is! As if Bill Clinton was the first President in the history of our country to have an affair while in office. The whole investigation into Bill Clinton's sex life was an effort on the part of the Republican Party to sink Bill Clinton's Presidency by any ethical or unethical means they could and a complete waste of the taxpayers' money. Sure, he was wrong to have an affair - but that's between him and Hillary, and absolutely none of your or anyone else's business.

I also find it rather offensive that you think Hillary Clinton would be riding into the Oval Office on her husband's coattails. While she isn't my first choice in the primary, I defy you to look at her experience both within and outside of government and tell me that she isn't as qualified as anyone in the field on her own to be President. Certainly the fact that her husband has been President would work in her favor, but to suggest as you do that the only reason she would be in the White House is because of her husband is highly suspect.

Finally, I mean you no disrespect personally. I'm just tired of having to look at the same crap that's been flung at the Clintons for years and debunked time after time continually resurrected in an attempt by certain powerful figures in the right-wing media to generate a "where there's smoke there's fire" feeling among the American public. I attribute this mostly to irresponsible and shallow journalism on the part of our news media, but the fact is that the smear campaign against the Clintons was organized and funded, and is continued by several wealthy and powerful members of the right-wing elite in this country, the Scaifes, Schlaflys, and Moons among them. It's irritating to me that we can't get past these baseless assertions into a discussion of our leaders' actual stances, positions, and plans, because there's a machine on the Right dedicated to repeating lie after lie in hopes that enough people will see the lies as at least partially true.

In other words, my annoyance with you was only partially related to your original post (which I still maintain was incendiary, light on argument, off-topic, and completely unnecessary), but more broadly related to the lies you (perhaps unwittingly) continued to spread. I bear you no ill will, sir, and since you have publicly stated your name I retract my assertions about your being too cowardly to do so. Let's have a civil, reasonable discussion.

Rachel said...

I'm probably too cynical, but I think people just aren't going to dig a little bit and vote based on something other than 30-second sound bites. We're used to the TV spoon-feeding us information about the world.

And I never thought I would say this because I grew up in a pretty conservative home, but I too would take Clinton's indiscretions over Bush any day of the week. What's a few blow jobs from Monica vs. blowing up Iraq?