Speech Saturation

After watching three days of Republican Convention, and now three days of the Democratic Convention, Kish and I are reaching the point of speech saturation.  I think I can make it through President Obama’s speech without suffering peroration poisoning — but it’s going to be close.

The sad fact is, there just aren’t many good speakers or speechwriters in either party.  Most of the speeches are hopelessly generic.  Everyone seems to talk about their families coming from nothing and their parents sacrificing.  Everyone relates some interaction with a generic American citizen — “in east Bejeebus, I met an ex-autoworker named Mel . . . .” — to illustrate some tired point.  Everyone tries to get the audience repeat some limp catch phrase, time and time again, until the viewer is ready to hurl a Coke can through the TV screen.  Except for Clint Eastwood, there’s not much originality out there.

The deliveries usually aren’t much better.  For every high-energy speaker like former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, there are dozens of deadpan, monotone snore-inducers.  Most have no sense of timing and can’t deliver a punch line; they don’t know how to use facial expressions or gestures to accentuate the words.  They stand stiffly, turning their heads from side to side like a robot, reading off the teleprompters.  Even worse, however, are those people who think they are just about the most clever, entertaining personalities imaginable; their mugging and winking is intolerable.

Tonight, we’re seeing more of the same.  Sigh.  President Obama’s speech can’t get here soon enough.

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When TV Towers Sprout, Bad News Is Near

When I drove in to work this morning and reached the heart of downtown, where our office is, traffic had begun to back up.  After I parked the car and walked to our building, I saw a TV station truck with one those spiral broadcast towers fully extended, looking like an alien invader from War of the Worlds.

As soon as I saw it, I got that familiar sick and sinking feeling.  If you live in an urban area, you know that seeing an extended TV van antenna always means bad news.  It’s like waking up in the middle of the night and seeing the Grim Reaper standing in your bedroom, holding his scythe and pointing a bony finger at you.  You know that the spiral tower means somebody is making a live report, which means that they’re covering the scene of a crime, and they only dispatch the truck if the crime is a serious and probably deadly one.

Sure enough, about a block from our office a body had been found, of the victim of an apparent robbery and stabbing.  The remains were covered with a sheet and partially shielded by low fencing, of the kind you might see around a manhole when the Sewer Department is doing some work.  It was an ugly, shabby scene, a disturbing sight at the beginning of another workday.  When I saw the TV tower, I should have known, and I shouldn’t have looked.

A House Divided On President Clinton’s Speech

The Webner House was a house divided last night after President Clinton’s speech to the Democratic National Convention.  It’s been a while since we’ve seen President Clinton giving a speech on the national stage, but he hasn’t changed much.  He still has that crinkly voice, the habit of starting every second sentence with “Now” or “Look” or “This is important,” and the finger-wagging and finger-pointing.  He still exudes a kind of roguish folksiness.

Kish thought President Clinton knocked it out of the park with his vigorous defense of President Obama’s performance and critique of the Republicans.  I thought the speech was too long and too unfocused, flitting from topic to topic on hummingbird’s wings without establishing any kind of theme, and not very convincing besides.

Consider President Clinton’s point on gas costs.  He said we should be grateful that the Obama Administration has issued regulations that will require cars to be twice as fuel-efficient in the future, saying that means we’ll be paying half as much for gas because we’ll be driving cars that need only half as much gas.  The problem with that argument is that the federal government has been issuing fuel-efficiency regulations for years, yet our costs increase because the rising price of gasoline outstrips any fuel-efficiency savings.  Is any American paying less for gas these days than they did, say, in 1994?  And, of course, President Clinton only focused on the cost of gas, and not the cost of the car.  How much will it cost to buy a car that meets the new standards? How many people will be able to afford them, and how many of the cars — like the Chevy Volt — will need to be sold with a government subsidy to even approach the range of affordability?

I also was struck by President Clinton’s point that the big difference between his tenure and now could be summarized in one word:  arithmetic.  He argued that Republican proposals don’t add up.  The use of “arithmetic” is interesting because a popular t-shirt in Republican circles these days is a play on the famous 2008 Obama “hope” poster; it features a silk screen of Paul Ryan with the word “Math.”  Republicans argue that it is President Obama’s budget proposals that violate basic principles of mathematics and are based on phony “savings” and overly optimistic assumptions about economic growth.  Is President Obama well-suited to attack Republican arithmetic when he has presided over a series of years that have produced trillion-dollar deficits, and his own budgets forecast enormous deficits for the foreseeable future?

Finally, President Clinton argued that no President, including Clinton himself, could have fixed the problems President Obama inherited in only four years.  The fundamental premise in that argument, of course, is that President Obama hasn’t repaired the damage in four years.  Even if you accept that conditions when President Obama took office were historically unprecedented, the problem is that President Obama, Vice President Biden, and other members of the Administration confidently predicted that the problems would be fixed and that the economy would be roaring ahead at this point.  Obviously, that hasn’t happened.  Some Americans may pause to wonder why we should reelect someone who hasn’t delivered on his assurances and now is saying that the job was tougher than he led us to believe.