Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Infamy

Speech By:
President Franklin D. Roosevelt

Title:
Asking Congress to Declare War

Date:
December 8, 1941

Location:
House of Representatives

Occasion:
Response to Pearl Harbor

Analysis:
No great leader commits his nation to war without just cause. People will die. Treasure must be expended. And the outcome is never certain.

But possessing just cause is not sufficient - communicating that justification to the people who will do the fighting, and the world, is essential. That is what President Roosevelt does here in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The speech is short - only 500 words - and to the point. But what points he makes.

He begins with a phrase so prophetic, it is regularly replayed on the anniversary of the attack: “Yesterday, December 7, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

Notice he calls it a “date.” The word “day” would have been equally correct, but the word he chose seems to convey more meaning.

He then goes on to relate news everybody listening knew - that the United States was at peace when the attack occurred. But then, in plain language, he outlines exactly how much preparation had to have taken place for such an attack to succeed. Without ever abandoning the studied language of a senior government official, he makes it plain to the whole world - “this was a sneak attack,” is what he conveys - without ever using those precise words.

Next, much as Jefferson did in the Declaration of Independence, he lists the points of American grievance against this foreign tormenter. Roosevelt also uses a tried and true speech technique to emphasize these points - the repeated phrase.

“Last night Japanese forces attacked,” he repeats, each time listing a place where the Japanese military had struck - Malaya, Hong Kong, Guam, the Philippine Islands, Wake Island, and, for good measure, Midway Island that very morning.

He then asserts his position as leader of his wounded nation. Perilous times call for strong leadership, and that’s what he intends to provide. “As commander in chief of the Army and Navy, I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense. But always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us.”

Finally, as with every good speech, he sums up with a call to action: “I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7th, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese empire.”

Even the most casual student of history knows what happened next.

Historical Note - Only one member of Congress failed to heed the President’s call for a declaration of war - Jeannette Rankin of Montana. Rankin had been the first woman ever elected to Congress, in 1916 - four years before the 19th amendment mandated woman’s suffrage for every state in the country (Montana already had it.). A lifelong pacifist, Rankin refused to vote for the United States’ entry into World War I. A year later she lost a primary for a Senate seat, in large part because of that vote. She was out of elected office until again being elected to Congress in 1940. Facing certain defeat as a result of her refusal to vote for the resolution to enter World War II, she did not run for re-election. She never held elected office again.

Length (words): 500

Text Posted: American Rhetoric

From The Bully Pulpit - Tom

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Speaking Dangerously

They have become a standard member of the audience at political speeches - the “tracker.” The opposition sends a staffer equipped with a video camera to record a politician speaking at public events. If the speaker says something unwise, it is recorded for distribution to political blogs and social media outlets.

It’s a practice which tripped up Senator George Allen, leading to his unexpected defeat, after he used the term “macaca” to describe the tracker shadowing him, a term interpreted as a racial slur. With a US Senator as a victim, the practice has been energized. In fact, the Democratic National Committee set up a Web site this year, asking volunteers to send in video, looking for the next “macaca” moment.

With the advent of economical and easy to transport video cameras, and the proliferation of social media sites and political blogs to distribute the results, “trackers” following political candidates at public events have become ubiquitous.

For every candidate, the danger is that something will be said “off message,” creating an issue that was not intended. These can cause a distraction, or worse, even sink the campaign. It’s one reason why creating a standard stump speech, and deviating little from it, is such a good idea.

But this year, a new aspect to the tracker dilemma surfaced in a hotly contested Congressional race in upstate New York, where Chris Gibson was challenging incumbent Scott Murphy. At one campaign stop, the tracker following Gibson around recorded an off-hand comment, although not made by Gibson or his staff. The Murphy campaign then promoted it to the political blogs.

As described by Politico’s Maggie Haberman:
Gibson talked to the crowd about Murphy being for "big government" and sending people to tape him, saying, "What do you think he thinks of your privacy? You trust a guy like that with your guns?"
People in the crowd said, "No!" and Gibson, a former military man, replied, "I'm just asking."
Then a man off to Gibson's left but out of the frame yelled out, "I trust him with my bullet!"
Gibson looked in that direction after the man said it, without saying anything.


Well, here’s the first problem - we don’t actually know which direction the comment came from, because the person making it is off camera. So we don’t know that Gibson looked in that direction, just that he looked around the room after making his own point - something good speakers do anyway.

Before posting the video sent over by the Murphy campaign, Maggie got this reaction from Gibson’s staff:
I emailed Gibson aide Dan Odescalchi the video and asked if the nominee had heard the remark or had any reaction to it, and he claimed he hadn't, saying, "Chris never heard the comment from the audience. Chris was using a microphone and PA system in the front of the room. Chris would obviously never condone any violence of any kind. In this country we settle differences at the ballot box."

Here’s the second problem with this - the Murphy campaign was trying to make their opponent responsible for someone else’s words, even though Gibson never acknowledged the comment, and certainly never said he agreed with it. It’s an attempt at good old-fashioned guilt by association, even though no association has actually been established.

There’s a third problem with this, and the aspect I find most troubling - who is the person who shouted the comment? We don’t know.* He could well be a plant sent by the Murphy campaign for the express purpose of shouting out a comment that could be used by Murphy to try and embarrass his opponent. Murphy had already sent one paid staffer to the event, the tracker, whose job was to try and record something embarrassing. Why not send two? And, who would know? Even the tracker could be kept in the dark on this.

Guilt by association is always a tenuous connection. But shouldn’t we be sure there’s actually some association in the first place?

Not only that, the original mistake can be compounded, because political bloggers tend to link to each other’s posts - particularly in their morning and evening news roundups.

An incident like this raises an additional question for the political bloggers - especially those associated with well-known media outlets such as newspapers, or which aspire to journalistic objectivity, rather than partisan political opinion. Does a video like this actually show what those promoting say it does? And, even if it does, has it been staged in a way that would be tough for anyone else to detect.

My suspicion is the media, and political speakers they cover, will have to wrestle with this last question on an increasingly frequent basis over the next few years - years of speaking dangerously.

From The Bully Pulpit - Tom

* Full Disclosure - I have known Chris Gibson for about a dozen years, and have done a small amount of work on his campaign this year. I also know the tracker who recorded the event. A fellow Tae Kwon Do black belt, he and I trained together for several years at the same dho jhang - in Chris Gibson’s home town of Kinderhook. Oh, and I know Maggie Haberman, and have, on occasion, contributed items used in her political blog (No, I won’t tell you which ones, and neither will she!).

Friday, October 15, 2010

A Speaker's Blunder

A single speech created a major controversy in the race for Governor of New York this week. Drafted by a Brooklyn Rabbi, and delivered by a Buffalo candidate, it conveyed some harsh opinions about homosexuals.

Few campaign speeches gather much notice. Most are given to small groups of people, with little fanfare, and for the most part, are designed to please as many people as possible.

So, how did Carl Paladino wind up in a firestorm, then pour gasoline on it, then make things worse by disavowing something he never should have said in the first place - angering those who agreed with his original remarks? It begins with his speechwriter!

As it turns out, Mr. Paladino does not normally use prepared speeches. That’s always a mistake, especially for a statewide candidate venturing out into territories where he is not well known. Yes, the local town Supervisor probably can speak off the top of his head in front of the local Lion’s Club. It’s a friendly situation, and probably everyone there knows each other. On a larger stage - say, the third largest state in the country, a little more preparation is called for.

To compound this lack of preparation, the speech Mr. Paladino did give in Brooklyn last weekend wasn’t written by his staff - people who share his goals, but by a local Rabbi, Yehuda Levin, who had his own political agenda to promote.

A speechwriter is tasked with crafting the words that convey the speaker’s beliefs. Often, the writer and speaker share the same beliefs, but it is not necessary that they do.

But whatever beliefs are expressed in a drafted speech, they must convey what the speaker wants to convey. Not only in terms of the speaker’s beliefs, but also in terms of the speaker’s goals. It is the writer’s duty to know what those are, and put them down in appropriate language so the audience will come away knowing what they are.

Prior to addressing the group in Brooklyn, Rabbi Levin handed Paladino the speech he had drafted for the occasion. Apparently, Paladino did some cursory editing, removing some passages that even he found uncomfortable (imagine how offensive those must have been), then gave that speech to a group of people he did not know. The result - a small forest consumed to produce the newsprint used in reporting the aftermath, along with enough blog posts to keep Google’s search engines occupied until election day.

If you’re not willing to stand by the things you’ve said in your speech - and in the end, Paladino was not so willing - then you shouldn’t be saying them.

It calls to mind a more general problem in the political world. Too many political candidates, having worked their way up from the Lion’s Club circuit, believe they are better at speaking off the top of their head. They seldom are. I know, I’ve listened to far too many of them.

Here’s a suggestion for every politician. Sit down and write a stump speech - a general speech about the problems your community, district, county, state, whatever - is facing, and the solutions you have to offer. Show it to a few people you trust to give an honest opinion - not your spouse - and hone it. Learn the basic points and a few solid lines, rather than memorize it.

In six months, repeat the process. That’s how fast the political world changes.

Better yet - hire a speech writer from your campaign account. For the cost of a few television spots, you can get some solid help. For Carl Paladino, it’s going to take thousands of television spots to undo the damage from one “free” speech.

And even they are unlikely to help.

From The Bully Pulpit - Tom

Thursday, September 30, 2010

In Confidence

I did not vote for President Obama. At the current rate of things, my disapproval will again be voiced at the ballot box in two years,  just as I suspect many Members of Congress will endure an expression of collective disapproval in the 2010 election.

That said - I am a loyal American. If the President called tonight and asked me to meet him at the White House at Noon tomorrow, I will be knocking on the door at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue at 11:00 AM - latest. And if, while there, he asks me to draft a speech, he will get the best of which I am capable.

So, it is no surprise that Mort Zuckerman, a news media mogul who has no doubt had occasion to consult with several Presidents, and obviously had great hopes for the performance of this one, would lend his services to this President.

However, if so called upon, the President may also depend on my confidence. That is obviously not the case with Mr. Zuckerman.

Here is the transcript of this exchange with interviewer Neil Cavuto on Fox news this summer:
MZ: “Well, I voted for Obama, I helped write one of his speeches, we endorsed Obama ...”
NC: “Which speech?”
MZ: “Uh, uh, I’d rather not go into that for the moment.”
NC: “Did it get a lot of applause?”
MZ: “Not, not from the people I hoped it would.”

No one believes the President writes his own speeches. It was actually something of a minor scandal when it was first revealed the second President Roosevelt employed a speech writer, but we have come to accept the obvious. Simply put - a President’s time is far too valuable, to spend writing speeches.

The same can be said of most busy executives. Were I such an executive, even given my own facility with the speech writing process, someone else would be doing the writing and I would have a hand in the fine-tuning.

But there is a certain expectation of confidence that the President, or anyone else for whom the speechwriter is working, absolutely deserves. I think that expectation was not met in this case.

And as a personal note to Mort Zuckerman - from one speechwriter to another. It’s never a good idea to publicly embarrass the President of the United States.

From The Bully Pulpit - Tom

Friday, September 17, 2010

I Agree To This Constitution

Speech By: Benjamin Franklin -
delivered on his behalf by James Wilson

Title: I agree to this Constitution

Date: September 17, 1787

Location: Independence Hall, Philadelphia, PA

Occasion: Signing of the Constitution

Analysis:
It is a short address, but even given its brevity, Franklin was too weak to deliver it himself on the final day of the Constitutional Convention. James Wilson, a fellow Pennsylvanian, did the honors on his behalf.

A troubling misgiving confronted the 39 delegates that day. Whether or not the divisions and debates and differences that produced the document before them, could also produce a nation, was a question very much in doubt. Still, in Franklin’s mind, it was better than nothing. But, as befit the author of Poor Richard’s Almanack, that sentiment needed to be related far more elegantly. It was.

He begins by referring to the various doubts about the document that all the framers held: “I confess that there are several parts of this constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them:

Then he speaks of the wisdom of age: “It is therefore that the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment, and to pay more respect to the judgment of others.” We may all be wrong about the positions we hold most strongly, he is telling them - do not be so sure of yourself.

He then speaks of the joint wisdom possessed by the individual members of their august body. But, he also warns this means there are joint prejudices, passions, errors of opinion, local interests, and selfish views to consider as well.

Finally, he gets to the heart of the matter: “Thus I consent, Sir, to this Constitution because I expect no better, and because I am not sure, that it is not the best.

In concluding, he does what many good speeches do, he sums up his salient points with a call for joint action: “On the whole, Sir, I can not help expressing a wish that every member of the Convention who may still have objections to it, would with me, on this occasion doubt a little of his own infallibility, and to make manifest our unanimity, put his name to this instrument.

They went on then, Franklin, and the 38 other delegates who heard his call, to place their names on the document they had labored through a hot Philadelphia summer to craft.

On this, the 223rd anniversary of the signing of that document which truly made this a nation, it is wise to ask - could we do as well today? In the end, that document about which Franklin, and so many others, had such troubling doubts, is what has allowed our nation itself to grow old.

Length (words): 720

Text Posted: U.S. Constitution Online

From The Bully Pulpit - Tom

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Op-ed Pieces

Call it “shameless self-promotion” if you must. But the op-ed piece I had published in the Albany Times Union this week, “Let's protect N.Y.'s water,” seemed  an appropriate topic for the blog.

How’s that,” you say, “what does a speech to a room full of people, have in common with a short article opposite the editorials in a daily newspaper?

Quite a lot, actually. I’ve mentioned in previous posts that there are similarities, so this seems a good time to examine them.

Op-ed pieces have much in common with speeches, but they are usually shorter, generally between 500 and 800 words, depending on the publication. They appear in the Viewpoints section of the newspaper, they express opinions, rather than being “hard news,” and need to have a clearly defined point of view.

Here’s what they have in common with speeches - both express opinion, and they share a similar structure. That structure consists of three main components:

Introduction – It’s a chance to establish audience identification with the topic. Lose this chance and you are likely to lose your audience as well. In an op-ed, this is called the “lede.”

Main Body – Carries the most important elements of the speech. This section should be developed step by step, in a logical or linear fashion.

This is the place to provide all the supporting information to bolster your arguments. Facts and figures are appropriate here.

Conclusion – This is the place to summarize what has been said. It’s also where to either issue, or restate a call for action. A good closing line is vital for a good speech just as for an op-ed, where this is known as a “kicker.”

As with a speech, research is vital to a good op-ed piece. This is where facts, figures, and other solid information build the case.

Newspapers generally look for certain elements in op-ed pieces:
The piece should focus on an issue of interest to readers of the newspaper. If the piece is related to a story that has already appeared in that publication, it indicates the paper’s editors have already judged that this issue is interesting to the paper’s readers. Another good technique is to develop a theme of topical concern - such as a public holiday, significant anniversaries, or comments on recently issued reports by some professional organization.

The author should have some special expertise or knowledge not generally available to the average reader. The writing should be concise. Concise is a term that varies from publication to publication, but it usually means something ranging between 500 and 800 words. That’s a major difference between a speech and an op-ed. If you’re asked to give a fifteen minute speech, no one will complain if go over that by a minute or two. If the paper’s limit is 650 words, believe it, and use a word counter to make sure.

There’s one other difference - a speaker is invited to give a speech. Most op-ed pieces are unsolicited.

If you can write an op-ed, you can certainly write a speech. The reverse may not be true.

From The Bully Pulpit - Tom

Saturday, July 3, 2010

A Declaration

Title: Declaration of Independence
Speech By: The Founders
Date: July 4, 1776
Location: Independence Hall, Philadelphia
Occasion: 13 Colonies Declare Independence

Analysis:
It was meant to be read aloud.

We don’t usually think of the Declaration of Independence as a speech. But it was meant to be read aloud. It was written at a time when being “on the stump” was a literal, not just a figurative exercise. Politicians, itinerant preachers, and those just seeking public attention, would come to a town, stand on an old tree stump near the center of it, and speak as, hopefully, a crowd gathered.

When the Continental Congress had finished editing Jefferson’s draft, it was sent immediately to printer John Dunlap, who produced between 150 and 200 copies, known as the "Dunlap broadsides" for distribution up and down the coast.

The first official public reading was by John Nixon in the yard of Independence Hall on July 8. A copy was sent to General George Washington, who had the Declaration read to his troops in New York City on July 9, with the British forces not far away. After it was read to another crowd of citizens - no longer were they subjects -  in New York City, they tore down a statue of King George mounted on horseback, and melted it down to use the lead to make musket balls.

As a speech, the Declaration of Independence is an enormous success.

The language itself is stirring. Jefferson, who would not be publicly revealed as the main author for another twenty years, launches directly into the point of the matter. “When, in the course of human events,” it starts, with simple but potent language. By the end of that first sentence, he has already stated the whole point of the document - Britain’s former colonies have separated their bonds and now hold an equal station among the powers of the earth.

Then comes what is likely the most famous sentence in all political rhetoric - “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

“Truths!”, it asserts. These things are True, it proclaims. And how do you argue with the truth? We are all entitled, of right, to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It then launches into what amounts to a 27 count indictment of King George and his parliament. We have discussed in other posts how the use of a repeated phrase serves the same purpose in spoken material as a bullet point does in printed material - it alerts the audience each time a new point is to be made. The technique is used here to a fault.

It sets up the points this way - “To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

Then, the word “He,” followed by the offense charged. It is repeated 13 times. Then the word “For” is substituted for the next nine repetitions, before reverting back to “He” to make the final five points. Interestingly, in colonial times, these 27 points were considered the more important part of the Declaration.

The concluding paragraph returns full circle, to restate what has already been said in the first sentence - that the colonies no longer are such. They are now free and independent states - “these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown.

It concludes with a solemn vow, as befits a declaration of this moment: “And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.

When you read the Declaration, think of it as a speech. For truly, it spoke volumes to the world. It still does.

Text Posted: U.S. History.org
Length (words): 1329

From The Bully Pulpit - Tom

Friday, June 25, 2010

A General Sacked

Speech By: President Obama
Title: Resignation of General McChrystal
Date: June 23, 2010
Location: Rose Garden
Occasion: Resignation of Gen. Stanley McChrystal

Analysis:
These remarks are not a case of how well something is said, but rather, the substance of what is said, and how decisively the words are delivered. By that measure, these remarks meet the standard admirably well.

Let’s start by not mincing words - General Stanley McChrystal was fired, he did not just resign. Let’s take it one step further - he should have been fired.

The Bully Pulpit has covered the controversy between Gen. McChrystal and the President, beginning with the General’s speech last Fall in which he indicated 40,000 more troops were needed in Afghanistan. It came close to crossing the line of insubordination, but was not overtly political. Still, the speech did serve to put unwelcome political pressure on the General’s ultimate boss - the Commander in Chief.

In response, the Commander in Chief went directly to West Point - to speak in front of those who would have to carry out whatever decision he announced - to deliver his reply.

It is the highest tradition of the American military, that its members ultimately take their orders from civilians. That they do this without public challenge, has given us a nation worthy of the lives they are willing to expend in its defense.

The most notable exception to this honored tradition was General MacArthur’s public challenge of President Truman during the Korean War. While it cost him political standing, Truman’s response, to fire MacArthur, ultimately strengthened the nation, and the Presidency itself.

While General McChrystal’s staff antics - speaking with open contempt of elected civilian officials in the presence of a reporter for Rolling Stone - may not quite rise to the same level as MacArthur, they are egregious enough. Given the previous history, there really seemed no choice. The President’s swift, decisive action in this case, is in the high tradition of President Truman, and America itself.

Length (words): 1176
Text Posted: White House Web Site


From The Bully Pulpit - Tom



Thursday, June 17, 2010

Rock Star of a Speech

Title: Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat
Speech By: Winston Churchill
Date: May 13, 1940
Location: House of Commons
Occasion: First Speech as Prime Minister

Analysis:
Let’s begin by dispelling an urban legend. Despite the claim of a music publicist a generation later, this speech did not provide the inspiration for the name of a rock and roll band.

But it is a rock star of a speech.

It is a short speech, and it is Churchill’s first speech before Parliament, as the nation’s new Prime Minister. Early on, it is heavy on the administrative elements of establishing a new government.  He outlines what has been done to establish the new government, then asks the house “to record its approval of the steps taken and to declare its confidence in the new Government.

With the administrative functions complete he launches into the travails he sees ahead. It would still be more than a year and a half before the United States joined the war, and his nation had already been at war for seven months.

He prepares his government for the difficulties of the struggle ahead - “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.

Then he sets out the task before the nation:
You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy.

It is a call to action, direct, pointed, unambiguous. It is a wonderful way to inspire an audience. In this case, it inspired all those who longed to be free of the Nazi terror.

Seventy years later, it inspires free people still.

Text Posted:
The Churchill Centre
Length (words): 730

From The Bully Pulpit - Tom

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Boys of Pointe du Hoc

Speech By:  President Ronald Reagan
Title: The Boys of Pointe du Hoc
Date: June 6, 1984
Location: Pointe du Hoc, France
Occasion: 40th Anniversary of D-Day
Analysis:
They landed at the bottom of the cliffs on D-Day, 225 Rangers assigned to scale the sheer cliffs on ropes, battling German defenders above the whole way up. Those lucky enough to reach the top, then had to take the German 155 howitzers whose sights were trained on the beaches at Normandy. After two days of fighting, the Rangers had suffered 60% casualties.

This was the heroic feat commemorated in President Ronald Reagan’s speech “The Boys of Pointe du Hoc.” While no mere ceremony could be equal to their feats of valor, this speech is at least worthy of describing them.

This is a masterpiece of the collaboration between speech writer and speaker. Written by Peggy Noonan, she brings a visual quality to the description of the scene, using plain language. “We stand on a lonely, windswept point on the northern shore of France. The air is soft, but 40 years ago at this moment, the air was dense with smoke and the cries of men, and the air was filled with the crack of rifle fire and the roar of cannon.

The opening sentence launches into the speech without hesitation, and establishes that all-important shared identification with the audience. In this case it’s a simple but inarguable premise - We all owe these men a very great deal: “We're here to mark that day in history when the Allied armies joined in battle to reclaim this continent to liberty.

The symbolic meaning of the memorial being dedicated that day is revealed: “Behind me is a memorial that symbolizes the Ranger daggers that were thrust into the top of these cliffs. And before me are the men who put them there.

Then come the simple yet memorable lines from which the speech takes its name: “These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war.” Repetition. Like bullet points on a sheet of paper. Notice how each line builds in significance - to show the true importance of what these men accomplished.

As befits an international ceremony, it does not stint on praise for the honor, the resolve, and the sacrifice of all the allies who took part in the liberation of Europe - it speaks of the valor of the Poles, and the Canadians, with a thinly-veiled reference to the disastrous raid at Dieppe two years earlier. Then a seeming roll call of the units involved: “All of these men were part of a rollcall of honor with names that spoke of a pride as bright as the colors they bore: the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, Poland’s 24th Lancers, the Royal Scots Fusiliers, the Screaming Eagles, the Yeomen of England’s armored divisions, the forces of Free France, the Coast Guard’s “Matchbox Fleet” and you, the American Rangers.

Three years before his speech at the Brandenburg Gate, Reagan does not hesitate to call one of the allied partners up short: “Some liberated countries were lost. The great sadness of this loss echoes down to our own time in the streets of Warsaw, Prague, and East Berlin. Soviet troops that came to the center of this continent did not leave when peace came. They're still there, uninvited, unwanted, unyielding, almost 40 years after the war.

Yet he also offers assurance there is no quarrel with the Soviet people, and that he recognizes their own suffering and valor in the War: “It's fitting to remember here the great losses also suffered by the Russian people during World War II: 20 million perished, a terrible price that testifies to all the world the necessity of ending war. I tell you from my heart that we in the United States do not want war. We want to wipe from the face of the Earth the terrible weapons that man now has in his hands. And I tell you, we are ready to seize that beachhead. We look for some sign from the Soviet Union that they are willing to move forward, that they share our desire and love for peace, and that they will give up the ways of conquest. There must be a changing there that will allow us to turn our hope into action.

If you listened to just the audio of this speech there would be points where it seemed that maybe Reagan had lost his way, that there were awkward silences. But if you watch the video, it becomes apparent he is taking his time to pause deliberately, to seek out faces in the crowd - particularly those Rangers that crowd was there to honor. When I referred earlier to the great collaboration between speech writer and speaker, this is the part where a speaker is always on their own, and the “Great Communicator” is more than equal to the task. He is, in fact, its Master.

Notice, finally, that in the video Reagan constantly refers to index cards to prompt him along during the speech. Today that would most likely be a teleprompter. It seems as anachronistic as watching a P-51 Mustang fly into battle today. But both got the job done in their time.

Length (words): 1843
Text Posted: The History Place
Video Posted: Reagan Foundation

From The Bully Pulpit - Tom

Monday, May 31, 2010

These Honored Dead

In my last post, A Crime To Vote, we examined how the freedoms we enjoy can always be taken away if we do not defend them. Not only that, it seems there is always someone prepared to take those freedoms away.

Today we honor those whose ultimate sacrifice helped preserve those freedoms.

These Honored Dead Is a short YouTube video I did, in tribute to their sacrifice. I hope you will take a few minutes to view it.

From the standpoint of a writer - notice how few words are sometimes needed to communicate important ideas.

From The Bully Pulpit - Memorial Day 2010

Sunday, May 30, 2010

A Crime To Vote

Title: Is it a Crime for a Citizen of the United States to Vote?
Speech By: Susan B. Anthony
Date: 1873
Location: Monroe and Ontario Counties, New York
Occasion: Response to indictment for voting in a federal election
Analysis:
Quick question - when did women first vote in a Presidential election?

Was it in 1920, after passage of the Nineteenth amendment? How about two years after the admission of Wyoming to the Union in 1890? Or perhaps it was Susan B. Anthony's solitary act of defiance in 1872? We'll return to that question later.

Having cast a ballot in the 1872 Presidential election, Anthony was indicted a few weeks later for - having voted illegally in a federal election. She responded by delivering this speech.

She gave it in every Town and Village in Monroe County and twenty-one Towns in Ontario County  fifty locations in all! Her question to her listeners was - Is it a crime for a citizen of the United States to vote?

At more than ten thousand words, it is a fairly long speech - probably at least an hour in length.

It is also one of those speeches that might well be considered a “Contra speech,” in that it had an effect that wasn’t considered when it was given. It turned out to be so effective that the federal prosecutor had the trial moved to Canandaigua, to avoid prejudice in the jury pool. Generally, that’s a move the defense makes, not the prosecution.

In the end, Anthony was fined $100 - a fine she never paid.

As for the question at the beginning of this post - when did women first vote in a Presidential election? It was in New Jersey during the election of 1800, the contest between President John Adams, and his Vice  President - Thomas Jefferson. The women who voted were either widows or old maids. Why “widows and maids?” New Jersey had a residency requirement, but its constitution made no mention of any gender restrictions. Like most states of that era, New Jersey required voters  to own a certain amount of property, and married women could not own property independent of their husbands - while adult women who were not married, could.

By 1807, New Jersey’s election laws had been clarified to reflect the original understanding - that women were not meant to vote. That right had been taken away from them.

The lesson? No right is guaranteed to any of us, unless we speak powerfully in its defense.

Text Posted: Famous American Trials
Length (Words): 10,122

From The Bully Pulpit - Tom

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Power Point

During a recent conference call, to discuss the substance of a panel discussion on lobbying for non-profits, my fellow speakers and I were asked by the coordinator what other material would go along with what we had to say. I offered an op-ed piece I’d written on the subject, which had been published in a major daily newspaper.

Aren’t you going to do a Power Point,” he asked? “No,” all four speakers agreed, it wasn’t necessary.

Among other things, I am a lecturer on lobbying in the New York Speakers in the Humanities program, and know how to hold an audience. I don’t use Power point for that either. My fellow speakers were equally accomplished.

It has become so ubiquitous a presence, it is simply called by its brand name - Power Point. The word “presentation” is no longer required. A Power Point is understood by all. Well, at least in one sense it’s understood.

A recent New York Times story describes how this tool can serve to confuse an audience, rather than clarify things. As shown in the “illustration” above - Power Point can produce some really atrocious results.

Before developing a slide show every speaker should first ask - is it really suitable for the type of presentation being given? Imagine, for instance, a President giving a Power Point at their inaugural. It would make history, all right, but I’m not sure it would be the kind that would be looked on kindly by future historians.

The point is simple - don’t decide to do a Power Point just because so many other people do. That’s not a very good reason.

Here are a couple of things to consider when you are making the decision:
  • How big is the audience? Power Point lends itself to large audiences. If you are speaking to only thirty or forty people, it may not be appropriate. If your audience can fit in a conference room, you should hand out written material instead.
  • Does your material lend itself to a presentation? If you are giving a talk on the vast variety of galaxies discovered by the Hubble telescope, where there are a lot of interesting visuals, then it certainly makes sense. If you are talking about lobbying for non-profits, maybe not.

Our talk on lobbying was given to 27 people. There were many questions, and a lot of direct interaction between the speakers and the audience. A Power Point presentation would have inhibited that.

It’s an important lesson for every speaker. Decide on creating a Power Point based on what you have to communicate, and the size of the audience. Don’t do it because the audience, or some event coordinator, has come to expect it.

From The Bully Pulpit - Tom

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Lobbyists

When asked by a reporter - “Would you be against lobbyists who are working for your program?,” President Harry Truman replied, “We probably wouldn’t call those people lobbyists. We would call them citizens working in the public interest.”

How a politician defines who is and who isn’t a lobbyist, is as likely to depend on where the lobbyist’s clients stand with regard to the politician’s own agenda, as any other factor.

So it should come as little surprise that President Obama devoted a significant portion of his Wall Street Reform speech to attacking lobbyists.

It’s a classic political strategy - don’t engage the opposition directly, find a convenient third party to attack. During the health care debate, his target was insurance companies.

Now, with a new battle joined, his speech resorts to military terms - “we have seen battalions of financial industry lobbyists descending on Capitol Hill, firms spending millions to influence the outcome of this debate.” Battalions! Indeed.

It’s an attempt to control the debate by controlling who takes part in the debate. So he demonizes lobbyists -  “despite the furious effort of industry lobbyists to shape this legislation to their special interests.” He frames the debate as being one between House and Senate, Democrats and Republicans, versus the evil “special interests.”

Lobbyists are an easy target, because few people know what lobbyists actually do. More than that, few people realize lobbying - the right to petition for a redress of grievances- is the oldest right contained in the First Amendment. It dates back to the Magna Carta in 1215.

It is a right exercised on both sides of almost every issue. To match those who oppose new Wall Street regulations, there is another cadre who promotes them. What makes lobbying such an important right? It keeps the well-intentioned people in government, from doing things which have unintended consequences.

It’s what I call - A Right for a Reason.

So, will President Obama’s vitriol against lobbyists succeed? Perhaps we should look to history for the answer.

In the end - Harry Truman is remembered for many things. His attack on lobbyists is not one of them!

From The Bully Pulpit - Tom


Thursday, April 22, 2010

In The Shadows


Speech By:  President Barack Obama
Title: Wall Street Reform
Date: April 22, 2010
Location: Cooper Union
Text Posted: State of Politics Blog

Analysis:
Put simply - this was not one of the President’s more effective, or dynamic speeches. Given the pre-speech hype by the White House, and its importance to his legislative agenda - especially since the passage of health care failed to deliver a bounce in public opinion polls - one would have expected otherwise.

As the White House press pool report noted: “Apart from loud cheers and applause when the president walked in, the speech was heard in mostly silence apart from the flutter of camera shutters." This is more notable because a number of local politicians, most of them members of the President’s own party, were in the audience.

There really was not much memorable about this speech. No great catch phrases stand out. It was delivered without great passion, and received in like manner. It was as if the President had left his great oratorical skills, and truly, such they are, back in the Oval office.

In some sense, this speech was delivered amid long shadows. As he notes in the opening paragraph, Cooper Union is basically in the shadows of Wall Street. But other shadows are cast on the Great Hall at Cooper Union. Six future Presidents, and three incumbent Presidents have spoken from that stage. President Obama is the only one who falls into both categories. From that stage, an aspiring politician from Illinois gave the speech that would make him President - exactly a century and a half ago. Then, it was a lanky fellow who wore a stove-pipe hat.

Obama even refers to shadows as part of his speech: “these markets operated in the shadows of our economy,” and maintains his proposed reforms “would bring complex financial dealings out of the shadows;”.

Perhaps these shadows obscured the perspective of his speech writers. But this was not an outstanding effort to justify greater government involvement in an essential facet of the American economy.

Whether you support these reforms or oppose them; welcome greater government control over the finance industry, or abhor the very prospect; it is disappointing the President did not make a more forceful case for this key element in his legislative agenda.

One sentence in the next-to-last paragraph did garner my attention. “In the end, our system only works – our markets are only free – when there are basic safeguards that prevent abuse, that check excess, that ensure that it is more profitable to play by the rules than to game the system.” Yes it is a summation, but to my mind it should have been punched up, and inserted as the second paragraph. It could have been the pillar around which the rest of the speech was built. Instead, it meanders until it reaches this summing up paragraph, By that time, the potential power of the speech was lost.

He does spend three of his 30 paragraphs - ten percent - slamming lobbyists. That will be the topic of a separate Bully Pulpit post. Believe me.

Length (words): 2849

From The Bully Pulpit - Tom

Monday, April 19, 2010

Gettysburg

Speech By: Abraham Lincoln
Date: November 19, 1863
Location: Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
Occasion: Dedication of National Cemetery

The Bully Pulpit has already covered the Gettysburg Address. But, since it deservedly resides on Time’s list of Top Ten speeches, it is worth another review. Besides, there is always more to say about this magnificent speech - little appreciated, by those who first heard it.

It is important to consider the context of this speech. Obviously, it was part of the dedication ceremony for the new national cemetery, on the site of the largest battle ever fought on the North American continent. But so much more was at stake than that.

President Lincoln was facing re-election in less than a year. No nation in history had ever been able to host a free election amidst a civil war. His prospects for success in that re-election effort seemed dim. He would prevail in that election, but no one listening knew that.

The battle had occurred on Union soil, because the Army of Northern Virginia had the ability to invade, putting Washington itself at risk. With the lense of historical perspective, we know the South would never again be able to invade North. But those in the crowd did not know that.

After the war, it became obvious that Gettysburg was the battle from which the South could never recover. Its losses over those three days of battle had been too severe. But no one on either side yet knew that.

All those uncertainties which plagued those who heard the Gettysburg address, are no longer apparent to us, in the clear light of historical knowledge.

Lincoln not only sought to address these uncertainties, as well as to honor the dead whose final resting place was being dedicated that day, he had the higher object of inspiring his people on to final victory.

For the first two years of the war, Lincoln had steadfastly maintained the issue was over secession - not slavery. In late 1862 Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which took effect January 1, 1863. By November of that year, Lincoln, speaking at Gettysburg, no longer cast the bitter conflict between the states as a question of union versus secession, but as "a new birth of freedom." In his first sentence he pointed out the nation’s founding had been “dedicated to the proposition that all men are create equal.”

He proceeds with spare, yet masterfully descriptive language. He also uses classic speech techniques such as repetition, particularly in groups of three. “we can not dedicate...we can not consecrate...we can not hallow this ground.

The phrase “we can not” serves the same purpose as bullets on a sheet of paper do for a reader - it warns of each important point that is about to be made. Notice also he uses “can not” as separate words rather than the more common cannot. The purpose is to make each syllable distinct as part of the emphasis.

As a final trick to capture the audience, Lincoln reverses the repetition technique in the final sentence, placing the repeated word at the end of each thought rather than at the beginning: “- and that government, of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Length (words): 267
Text Posted: Avalon Project - Gettysburg Address

From The Bully Pulpit - Tom

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Shameless Hypocrisy


Title: American Slavery
Speech By: Frederick Douglass
Date: July 4, 1852
Location: Rochester, NY
Occasion: Independence Day Celebration

Analysis:
An escaped slave, Douglass left America, then returned to purchase his freedom so he could speak out publicly against slavery, without fear of being returned to bondage under the fugitive slave act. He certainly spoke out this Independence Day, almost nine years before the start of the Civil War.

He begins by involving his audience immediately: “Fellow citizens, pardon me, and allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here today?” This simple opening sentence is effective on so many levels. By addressing his “fellow citizens,” he not only creates a shared identification, but establishes the basis on which his entire speech will rest - that he, and they, share the equal station of citizenship.

His next two words, “pardon me,” is a phrase designed to grab the attention of his listeners. “Pardon you?”, they would almost certainly be asking themselves, “Why do we need to pardon you?” In his first four words, Douglass has grabbed his listeners’ attention. He reinforces that by asking: “why am I called upon to speak here today?”

Now that he has their attention, he intends to cast cold water on their celebration. His point - The birth of American freedom, did not bring freedom to all Americans.

I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary!”, he declares. A marvelous turn of phrase, that. It references the old phrase “beyond the pale,” which means something or someone operating outside agreed standards of decency. But it’s also a thinly-veiled reference to the fact that the only difference between those who have reason to celebrate this day, and those who don’t, is the degree of their skin pigmentation. Were he paler, it would make an immeasurable difference in his freedom to participate in this festive occasion.

He then launches into the point he wants his audience to hear: the rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence bequeathed by the founders to his listeners, is not shared by the millions still held in chains. He announces that he sees this holiday from a different perspective, “I shall see this day and its popular characteristics from the slave's point of view.

His audience would have known that he shares this perspective because it is one he has experienced personally, something they have not.

It is not a pleasant speech, but it is undeniably powerful. “I will use the severest language I can command,” he promises. He does not disappoint.

He then proceeds to examine the arguments used to justify slavery, and dispenses with each in neat fashion.

Is the slave a man? “That point is conceded already,” he notes. He points to southern laws which prohibit teaching slaves to read and write. Such statutes are not needed for dogs or cattle or any of the other animal species extant.

Members of his race engage in all the professions other races do, and live in traditional family units. And above all, they engage in “confessing and worshipping the Christian God, and looking hopefully for life and immortality beyond the grave.” This argument indeed is above all. For, while an animal may have a concept of mortality, it does not ask if there is an after-life, or how the world came to be. This ability, only humans possess.

Then he poses the rhetorical question - is a man entitled to liberty? It’s a question which has been already answered for him. It is, in fact, the entire premise of the document his audience has gathered to celebrate. The Declaration of Independence itself proclaims men - “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Who can celebrate such a document, and simultaneously dispute its basic premise?

His next to last paragraph is a triumph of the orator’s art:
What to the American slave is your Fourth of July? I answer, a day that reveals to him more than all other days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mock; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy - a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation of the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of these United States at this very hour.

His final verdict on an American nation which continues to sanction slavery is damning: in “shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.

This is a wonderful speech, about a not-so-wonderful time in our history. That it belongs in Time’s Top Ten Speeches is no more subject to dispute, than the premise that all humans are entitled to liberty.

Text Posted:
The History Place
Length Words: 1817

From The Bully Pulpit - Tom

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Give Me Liberty


Title: Give Me Liberty
Speech By: Patrick Henry
Date: March 23, 1775
Location: St. John’s Church - Richmond, Virginia
Occasion: Resolution to arm the militia

Analysis:
One of the problems with this, like Socrates’ Apology, is that they were actually recorded long after the speaker’s demise. Plato is the actual author of Apology. There was no court reporter to take it all down verbatim. One can easily imagine Plato and a group of fellow philosophers musing after all was over, goblets of wine in hand, “Boy, that Socrates sure gave one hell of a last speech. We ought to write that down. Do you remember what he said exactly?”

This, Henry’s most famous speech, was reconstructed from listeners’ memories 15 years after his death - and 40 years after he gave it!

That could well explain such seemingly prescient phrases as: “The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field!” With the battle of Lexington and Concord still a month away, it’s either a remarkably accurate prediction, or, perhaps, a case of convenient memory.

Still, there is no doubt Henry was one of the most powerful speakers of his time. There is also little doubt this speech was memorable enough to make a lasting impression on those who heard it.

It is a speech rich in classical allusions - “I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided; and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past.” Can you see Henry as the successor to Diogenes? This time, not seeking an honest man, but the lessons of experience, and meeting with far greater success.

It is equally rich in Biblical allusions - “Suffer not yourselves to be betrayed with a kiss.” In so doing, he was addressing his audience in terms with which they were intimately familiar. In other words, he was establishing that vital element by which to capture the attention of his listeners, audience identification.

He also resorts to one of the other elements that make an effective speech - repetition of one word to help his audience follow the points he wants to make. In this case “We” is the operative word. “Sir, we have done everything that could be done to avert the storm which is now coming on. We have petitioned -- we have remonstrated -- we have supplicated -- we have prostrated ourselves before the throne, and have implored its interposition to arrest the tyrannical hands of the ministry and parliament.

Later, he resorts to the same device using a different word - “Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance by lying supinely on our backs, and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot? Sir, we are not weak, if we make a proper use of those means which the God of nature has placed in our power.

Finally, he concludes with a stirring call to action - “Forbid it, Almighty God! -- I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!

It is a rallying cry virtually every American schoolchild can recite. That stirring conclusion alone makes this speech worthy of inclusion in the Top Ten speeches of all time.

Text Posted: National Center for Public Policy Research
Words: 1018

From The Bully Pulpit - Tom

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Apology - Socrates

Speech By: Socrates
Title: Apology
Date: 399 B.C.
Location: Athens
Occasion: Trial for “corrupting youth”

Analysis:
Can a speech be successful - even if it fails at its goal? That is the conundrum posed by Apology.

On trial for “corrupting youth,” Socrates addressed the men of the Athens jury in his own defense.

It is a long speech, over 11,400 words. He probably would have spoken for at least three hours. Then again, when you are on trial for your life, I suspect you want to make as effective an argument as possible. You probably also want to take as much time as possible.

It is also in three parts - a defense against the charges lodged against him; the argument for an appropriate penalty once the jury had rendered a guilty verdict; and, finally, his parting words once the death penalty had been pronounced.

He begins with a classic orator’s device - to downplay his own eloquence: “But many as their falsehoods were, there was one of them which quite amazed me; -- I mean when they told you to be upon your guard, and not to let yourselves be deceived by the force of my eloquence. They ought to have been ashamed of saying this, because they were sure to be detected as soon as I opened my lips and displayed my deficiency;”

We see the same technique today, in modern political campaigns. Before two candidates meet to debate, for instance, the handlers for both sides down-play their own candidate’s abilities - in hopes of not only making that candidate look better by being able to surpass lowered expectations, but also, if something goes horribly wrong, by being able to say “we said this wasn’t our forte.” Sort of like damage control, before there even is any damage.

There is a strong note of condescension which runs through the speech. “He, O men, is the wisest, who, like Socrates, knows that his wisdom is in truth worth nothing.” This is not the wisest approach for addressing any audience, but to listeners who hold the power of life or death, it is truly unwise.

So, did he not care? Was he too set in his ways to change? Or, maybe, he had simply grown tone deaf to the way his examination of people made them feel? Perhaps his devotion to his philosophical pursuits left him no recourse.

It is from this speech that we derive one of the fundamental tenets of his philosophy - “that the life which is unexamined is not worth living.” That’s a rather broad statement. While it may be true of Socrates, or Plato, who recorded it for posterity, or even you and I, is it really true of every human being? Is no one’s life worth living unless subjected to the scrutiny which appeals to Socrates?

It’s an uncomfortable pronouncement - at least for me.

Quite likely, it was a lifetime of such pronouncements which decided his fate, when the sentence of death was pronounced on him by the jury.

So, was this a successful speech that failed to accomplish its goal? People still study it, more than 2,400 years later. Maybe therein lies the answer.

Length (words): 11,414

Text Posted:
Athenaeum Reading Room

From The Bully Pulpit - Tom



Friday, March 12, 2010

Supreme Colleagues


Speech By: Justice Ruth Bader-Ginsburg
Title:  Lighter Side of Life at the United States Supreme Court
Date: March 13, 2009
Location:
New England Law, Boston
Length (words): 1756

In the wake of President Obama’s public excoriation of the Supreme Court during his State of the Union speech, Chief Justice Roberts waited until this week to issue his own very public reply. In a speech before the University at Alabama law school, Roberts answered a question about that moment from one of the students.

What he apparently found troubling was not the President taking issue with the opinion, “I have no problems with that.” Said the Chief Justice. “On the other hand, there is the issue of the setting, the circumstances and the decorum.

Intrigued, I went to the Supreme Court Web site, to see if I could find the speech itself posted. It wasn’t. Hopefully it will be in the near future. However, I did find posted there a delightful little talk by Justice Ruth Bader-Ginsburg, at New England Law.

Entitled The Lighter Side of Life at the United States Supreme Court, it is a generous and revealing glimpse into how the court operates, both in legal and social terms. By generous, I mean Justice Ginsburg generously shares her insight into the collegial workings of the court, with her audience.

By generous, I also mean she is generous towards her colleagues on the court, even those who do not share her own legal philosophy. In talking about the fact there are sometimes “sharp differences” over certain issues on the court, she offers this observation: “But through it all, we remain good friends, people who respect each other, and genuinely enjoy each other’s company. In recent terms, we have even managed to agree, unanimously, some 30 to 40 percent of the time. That contrasts with the Court’s 5-4 splits, which last term accounted for about 16 percent of the Court’s decisions. Our mutual respect is only momentarily touched, in most instances, by our sometimes strong disagreements on what the law is.” That unanimous agreement, 40 percent of the time, is something you seldom read about in the press. And it's actually quite remarkable, given the nine strong personalities, each with their own opinion, who occupy the Supreme Court's bench.

She goes on to add this important note about how she and her colleagues view their function: “All of us appreciate that the institution we serve is far more important than the particular individuals who compose the Court’s bench at any given time.”

While any Supreme Court Justice is likely to enjoy the rapt attention of any law school audience, her speech pays due attention to the essentials of a good speech. She engages her audience. “My aim is to describe not the Court’s heavy work, but the lighter side of life in our Marble Palace.

She also avoids the “Ninth letter syndrome,” using "I" only 17 times, less than one percent of the time, while using the collective “we” and “our” almost twice that often. She is obviously working hard to establish a shared identification with her audience. This is an especially critical consideration in this case. When listening to a Supreme Court Justice speak, even a room full of lawyers must know that few, if any of them, will ever even be considered for elevation to such high station.

That Justice Ginsburg successfully navigates this chasm between her audience and herself, with grace, and a touch of gentle humor, is much to her credit. And, perhaps, her speech writer’s.

It is a speech heavy on the human side of the court, far less on the legal. I hope you will read, and, enjoy it, as I did.

And, if you want to know even more about how the court works, from the perspective of an insider, I highly recommend Chief Justice William Rehnquist’s book - The Supreme Court.

Text Posted: Supreme Court Web Site 

From The Bully Pulpit - Tom

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Top Ten Speeches?


Time magazine recently posted its list of the Top 10 Speeches of all time. All are great speeches, or at least on great topics.

But I have a couple of observations - it is very Euro-American centric, with a heavy emphasis on the "American" part of that equation. Now, to be completely honest, I doubt I could name, under pain of torture, a great speech given by a leader in Asia, Africa, South America or Australia, and hold precious little hope for Antarctica. Even in “Eight Below” the speeches were given elsewhere. But I’m certain some great speeches must have been given elsewhere.

Were I to look for an Asian speech, for example, I’d start with Sun Tzu. But having read The Art of War, no examples come immediately to mind. (Note to self - go back and read The Art of War again.)

However, that is not to fault the list which Time has complied. All but one, in my estimation, are great speeches, that anyone even remotely interested in history should be familiar with.

We start with Socrates’ Apology in 399 B.C., then wait almost 22 centuries before the next on the list - Patrick Henry in 1775. I’m quite sure that other great speeches were delivered in the intervening years, but one of the great problems that must be considered is recording and distribution. Fully half the speeches on our list are recorded electronically. Thus they belong to the 20th century. Come to think of it - we are now nearly a tenth of the way through the 21st - and no suggestion I could offer would supplant any on this list. Time to get cracking, speech writers!

All right - as for the one speech I would take issue with. When great speeches come to mind, Lyndon Johnson is not in the first rank. Even given how just, and great, and difficult a cause it was, to propel the Voting Rights Act through a reluctant Congress, if I were to cite the one Johnson speech that truly had an impact on me, it was the March 1968 speech which concluded with the announcement that he would not be a candidate for re-election that Fall. I can remember to this day, turning to my Father and saying in disbelief: “Did he just say what I thought he said?” And Dad’s stunned reply, “I’m not sure, but I think so.”

The full list follows, and I think we should examine each individually. Say, one a week for the next ten weeks?

From The Bully Pulpit - Tom

    Monday, March 1, 2010

    Best Thing Since Footlights?


    We’ve all seen it - A winner at the Academy Award ceremonies, gold statuette clutched firmly in hand, suddenly possessed of the urge to thank, by name, every individual in their Blackberry.

    Academy Award speeches can turn an evening of unparalleled success into a dismal failure. Just consider James Cameron as he picked up his third Oscar for Titanic, Sally Field’s second Best Actress award, or Sacheen Littlefeather’s only Academy Award speech.

    Sometimes it’s not so much a case of saying something wrong, as saying too much - going on interminably until being drowned out by the exit music. According to Movie Tribune, Bill Mechanic, Co-producer for the Oscars, informs the nominees that the long thank you speeches they deliver are “the single-most hated thing about the show.”

    This year, Entertainment Daily reports, the “speeches will end on a high note,” thanks to an innovation dubbed the “thank you cam.” After a short speech on stage, the winners will be able to go back stage and make a second speech which can be sent to family, friends, and posted on the internet.

    The winners will then be able to talk as long as they want. But nobody will be forced to unwillingly endure a soliloquy, that droned on a scene or two long.

    It just may be the best innovation in the entertainment industry since footlights.

    We’ll know for sure a week from now.

    Title: I’d like to thank ....
    Speech By: Numerous award winners
    Date: March 7, 2010
    Location: Kodak Theatre
    Occasion: 82nd Academy Awards Presentation
    Video Posted: Live - ABC
    Length: 45 seconds (We hope)

    From The Bully Pulpit - Tom