Thursday, September 6, 2012

Elizabeth Warren and Bill Clinton, graded

We're pleased to welcome Wake Forest political communications professor Allan Louden back to the O - and we're happy he's brought some help with him. Louden, a national champion debate coach who has worked with politicians such as Elizabeth Dole, graded speeches and debate performances for us in 2008. This week, he and his political communications class will cast their critical eyes on key DNC speeches, offering a letter grade to each.

On Tuesday, they examined keynote speaker Julian Castro and First Lady Michelle Obama. Today it's Elizabeth Warren, U.S. Senate candidate in Massachusetts, and President Bill Clinton.

First off, Elizabeth Warren:

In mid-July President Obama told supporters in Roanoke, Va.: “If you’ve got a business, you did not build that – somebody else made that happen.” You would have thought the political world was asunder as opponents pounced, generating dozens of political spots and speeches. The reality of Obama’s gaffe was no more a crime than an inarticulate parroting of Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren’s powerful defense of government’s role.

The Warren convention speech attempted to right that gaffe Wednesday, through the originator’s voice. But a convention speech is different than a YouTube gone-viral video, rising on an edgy authenticity.

In her speech, Warren mercilessly attacked the Republican Party, accusing them of “chipp[ing], squeeze[ing], and hammer[ing]” the middle class on an already uneven playing field. Brimming with passionate energy, Warren unflinchingly refuted Mitt Romney’s big business focus by stating that “corporations are not people [because] people have hearts.” By displaying Romney as a cold, heartless, impersonal machine, Warren very effectively asked her audience to choose sides.

If she positioned the Republican Party the oppressor, she positioned Obama as the knight in shining armor, the hero of the masses, and the defender of the people. Here she lay on the humanistic appeal and the call to unity. Harkening back to an earlier speech, Warren painted a picture of an America that we “root it in fairness, grow it in opportunity, and we build it together.

The theme was a hit on the convention floor but failed to assess reality from a critical standpoint, offering up sound bites in lieu of concrete examples. Despite claims of “running the country for people and not corporations”—an almost inflammatory remark considering the last trillion dollars worth of bailouts went to American corporations and not the taxpayers—Warren seemed effete and preachy; a little fish in a big pond full of like-minded people who don’t make as much money.

Warren ended the speech to a roaring crowd of like-minded, but may have threatened more voters with a too concentrated enshrining of government. The moments of unique insight- those outside the expected political balderdash, were too few. She is often better when her progressive Teddy Roosevelt heart is exposed, but not when replaced by compliance with the convention script.

Grade: B

Bill Clinton:

Who can doubt that Bill Clinton’s political skills elevate above his peers (and who can doubt that he spoke too long – nearly an hour). His big-voice version of political realities resonated through the hall in Charlotte, and with a little media amplification may resound through Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida.

It is easy to dismiss Clinton’s skills, especially those who cannot forgive former appetites, but he does move audiences with a clarity enjoyed by few. True, the speech after the first few minutes was unashamedly political, but other factors trump. A more interesting question is why is his speaking effective? A few reasons suggest themselves.

Clinton is direct. There is no doubt what the take away is when, in plain language, Clinton makes a point. “I want Barack Obama to be the next President of the United States and I proudly nominate him as the standard bearer of the Democratic Party.” Game on . . .

He dissected the Republican platform with poise, relentlessly. Prefacing his attack on the Romney campaign’s budget proposal and its implications for entitlements with a long list of bi-partisan accomplishments gave the former president a rare measure of ethos in today’s political world. He never came across as mean; instead he seemed disappointed that the programs he had once worked with Republicans to strengthen had become issues of such acrimonious debate today; unsolvable, unwinnable.

Clinton uses argument. After more evidence than others would dare to put in a speech, he offered a position that exceeds slogans, concluding on one refrain: “It turns out that advancing equal opportunity and economic empowerment is both morally right and good economics, because discrimination, poverty and ignorance restrict growth, while investments in education, infrastructure and scientific and technological research increase it.”

One of Clinton’s most effective rhetorical strategies was the running tally he kept of jobs created under Democratic and Republican administrations over the past 52 years. In that time, Republican administrations have created 24 million jobs; the Democrats, 42. “So what’s the job score?” asked the president. “Republicans: 24 million. Democrats: 42.”

This segued into a comparison of President Obama’s job creation as compared to the jobs Congressional Republicans have created since 2008—Obama: 4.5 million. Republicans: 0 — and a comparison of the jobs saved in the auto-bailouts compared to the number of jobs that would have been saved under the Mitt Romney plan of allowing the companies to fold—Obama: 250,000; Romney: 0.

In this way, Mr. Clinton diagrammed the party’s history of job creation and the President’s own record when tested against his two biggest adversaries these past four years in Mitt Romney and the U.S. Congress. Whether or not party or presidential platforms were directly responsible for every job created in Clinton’s analysis was irrelevant last night, all that mattered was the score.

Clinton did not disappoint during his speech. Using a combination of humor, facts, and anecdotes, he captured the crowd with his charismatic rhetoric “I want to nominate a man cool on the outside but burning for America on the inside. . . I want a man for president who had the good sense to marry Michelle Obama.” There were echoes of an emblazoned Ted Kennedy of conventions former, but in a voice that invited rather than instructed.

Grade: A+

Student participants: Joe Perretta, Lillis Hendrickson.


Jim said...

"...burning for America on the inside..."?

Aw, c'mon Bill! This, after all, is Jeremiah Wright's acolyte -- the "God d@mn America" preacher -- who pledged the "fundamental transformation of America".