Aug 08, 2020

Loss of speech

FOUR SCORE AND twenty years ago our leaders were better writers and speakers. Maybe even more recently than that, but I don’t think I was born yet.

I don’t remember what President Bush said when the World Trade Center was attacked. And I can’t seem to recall what Tony Blair — or even the Queen, for that matter — said on the day of the London Subway bombings.

Yet, I can remember learning about William Jennings Bryan’s Cross of Gold Speech in AP US History. I first heard a recording of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” in fourth grade and for many subsequent years thereafter. I’ve studied the Gettysburg Address and once memorized the opening to the Constitution.

I don’t know what has happened the great speeches and documents of our time. No public official makes a memorable speech any more. There are no more days that live in infamy, or if there are, the effect is ruined when Bush stumbles over the word “infamy.”

Maybe that is why so few support the War in Iraq anymore — according to a USA Today poll in early July, seven out of 10 Americans supported the removal of US forces within ten months. People can’t get behind anything without words of reason and compassion.

Bush never delivered a compelling speech as to why we should go to war. Not that a few words could have saved the massive debacle that is the War in Iraq, War on Terror or whatever you want to call it. A smooth speech probably couldn’t even make the reality of what we got into more palatable. However, it would be nice to be able to point to one thing, even as insignificant as a speech and say, “that was well done.”

Instead, all we are left with is, well, what we are left with.

So in looking ahead at the potential candidates for 2008, I am looking for an orator. My exposure thus far has been limited to Obama and McCain on The Daily Show and Fred Thompson on The Tonight Show, alongside news clips of Giuliani, Clinton and Romney from the mounting pile of debates.

And none of them stand out in my mind as great orators. Of course, we know that politicians today are blessed with a bevy of speech writers, who are apparently the most boring, unimaginative lot of all time.

Rumor has it that Lincoln did the Gettysburg Address all by himself on the back of an envelope while riding a moving train to the site of the most gruesome battle of the Civil War.

Actually, he really wrote it back in Washington and then just polished it up when he got there.

But the point is that he did it himself. He didn’t have a team weighing the impact of each syllable.

Maybe it’s the media’s fault. Thanks to YouTube and television, our politicians are as overexposed as Hollywood starlets. I keep waiting to hear the shocking revelation that Cheney is in fact, prone to go commando.

Really though, I am waiting for the politician who does it for him or her self. The politician who gives a speech that gets even a phrase stuck in the back corner of my brain. The politician who, in a hundred years, will have schoolchildren looking up from their tests and sighing as they work out an essay question on why that speech was so dang important.

It doesn’t seem to matter anymore. Today’s politicians are just recordings of what someone else thought they should say. They are recordings of what someone determined was the safe thing to say. Not the intelligent thing, or the accurate thing and, we know, not the honest thing.

I know speech writers have been around for a while, but the delivery doesn’t even seem to matter anymore. Where are the Kennedys: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” The political candidates for ’08 have about as much charisma as old cauliflower.

I am waiting for the words to count. Where are the Lincolns of today? I’ll take a Franklin D. Roosevelt or even a reincarnated Reagan. “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” — even if he was acting, it sounded good.

Kirstie E. Hettinga is a graduate student at Fresno State getting her master’s degree in mass communication and journalism. She claims to hate television. In reality, she is a closet fan of Jeopardy!

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