The Conventional Conventions

I listened to the speeches from the Republican National Convention this evening. Last weekend I listened to the speeches from the Democratic National Convention. I started this article thinking I’d comment on the rhetoric and issues, but realistically I can’t.

I can’t–not because I don’t have opinions about it all, but I can’t because these conventions are not the kind of thing to listen to in order to really form an opinion. The conventions are highly choreographed cheerleading events. I can’t comment on the rhetoric and issues because except for a few exceptions, they’re just not present!

I like to think I’m a conscientious voter and I do actually get excited for the large political process, but the conventions are just about the worst things on TV or radio. All the conventions do is sharpen the polarization between the parties. The reason the cheers are so loud and unanimous is because they are not attended by regular folks, but by the biggest supporters and the most extreme, so the cheers are always on cue. I like to think that people actually have disagreements and discourse, but the conventions just don’t do that.

Notice the most common elements of the speeches: God blessing America and candidates, how great America is, tying everything back to Abraham Lincoln, reinforcing how this is the most important election of our lives, and then repeating the 4 or 5 talking point soundbites that are party specific.  Oh yeah.. and CHANGE. Remove all of that and you might see a few gems.  Here’s what I noticed.

The candidate’s wives speeches were probably the most conventional.  Family-family-family and all that.  At least they’re short.

The Vice-Presidential nominees had actually a lot of good value from a “who are you?” perspective, but nothing you couldn’t just get from wikipedia.  I think Sarah Palin’s speechwriter is much better than Joe Biden’s, and I think she definitely adds more to John McCain’s ticket than Joe Biden adds to Barack Obama’s ticket, but in all honesty I don’t think I’ve ever considered the VP fitness when voting for President…. well maybe Dan Quayle.

On the Democratic side, I liked seeing Bill speaking again–you can tell he misses it.  The Clintons did a very good job of turning off the campaign machine and not dividing the Democratic party.  As fun as that might have been to watch.  I think John Kerry wins the prize for the most improved speaker.  I’m not sure where his speechwriter was in 2004, but he should be well compensated for his work this time around. I will ding them for having John Kerry and Joe Biden both “inadvertently” start to say George Bush instead of John McCain. Like I said, carefully choreographed cheerleading.

On the Republican side, it was kind of sad to see Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson, but I guess they had to be there for name recognition.   Huckabee, on the other hand, had a lot of zingers.  Giuliani just couldn’t go one speech without saying 9-11, but his speech was possibly the most cheerleading. I was actually a little annoyed by the chanting. I find chanting USA-USA-USA is a cover for having no substance.

A common theme on both sides was the rhetorical method of anastrophe.  Probably most famously used by John F. Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country” , it was heard in Bill Clinton’s speech: ” People the world over have always been more impressed by the power of our example than by the example of our power.” and in Sarah Palin’s speech: “In politics, there are some candidates who use change to promote their careers.  And then there are those… who use their careers to promote change.” If you liked that, check out this page and then listen to some speeches and try to find as many as you can.

The presidential acceptance speeches were more thank-yous and campaign promises than anything else. I think John McCain did a better job of outlining the party platform and ended his speech on a solid applause and cheer. That being said, Barack Obama is a really, really good speaker, and if I were one to decide merely on apparent sincerity and oratory skill, that’s how I’d call it.

Maybe after the debates I’ll get into a little more about what I think about the issues. I’ll tell you, though, it is going to be a bumpy ride to November.

One Comment

  1. Julie

    I finally finished listening to the speeches myself. I’m not sure I feel enlightened, other than to learn what talking points immediately make me reflexively snort or shout “no!” back at them. Better to get that out of my system in my car than in discussion, I suppose.

    I don’t think I can hear the chanting of U.S.A. in quite the same way again after hearing it come up at inopportune times to drown out the voices of protestors. It’s the effective, patriotically-tinged cousin of sticking your fingers in your ears and saying “la la la la”.

    My favorite anastrophe–which I used successfully in a high school economics paper–is this gem from Abraham Lincoln.
    “People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like.”
    See how easy it is to cite Lincoln? Mystery Men had some good anastrophe in it.

    And oh yeah, I’m looking forward to the debates, and have some voting records to look up in the meantime.

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