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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

(More about political theatre!)

My mom was ecstatic about Hillary's speech to the Democratic convention last night. I thought it was a pretty good speech from the point of view of sincerely supporting Barack Obama; anything but her full-throated endorsement last night could have been a major wound.

But I wasn't happy with the speech as a performance text. I felt it rambled all over the place. Laundry lists of people the Democratic Party should help:
To fight for an America defined by deep and meaningful equality -- from civil rights to labor rights, from women's rights to gay rights, from ending discrimination to promoting unionization to providing help for the most important job there is: caring for our families. And to help every child live up to his or her God-given potential. To make America once again a nation of immigrants and of laws.

To restore fiscal sanity to Washington and make our government an instrument of the public good, not of private plunder.

To restore America's standing in the world, to end the war in Iraq, bring our troops home with honor, care for our veterans and give them the services they have earned.

We will work for an America again that will join with our allies in confronting our shared challenges, from poverty and genocide to terrorism and global warming.
I'm for all these good things, too. But "a nation of immigrants and laws"? What the hell does that mean? The two have nothing to do with each other. "poverty and genocide to terrorism and global warming"? How do you even mention those four in the same breath?

Hillary could have given a coherent critique of the Bush-McCain policies -- no reason she couldn't go all out negative on the Republicans, she's not running for President. A coherent critique would have tied some of these issues together by our addiction to oil. The logic would be along these lines: Bush and McCain have prevented us from developing alternative energies and reducing our thirst for oil. So we've shipped hundreds of billions of dollars to unstable states in the Middle East where the money winds up in the hands of terrorists. And when we burn the oil it winds up in the atmosphere where it increases global warming. Because of oil we got stuck in Iraq. And that means our military forces aren't available to stop genocide. We need to seriously reduce our dependence on oil. There's no reason American technology can't do it. And when we stop shipping our money overseas to pay for oil -- when we start building windmills and solar panels and creating more efficient biodiesel -- we're going to create a huge new energy sector that employs millions of Americans that are losing their jobs building big cars that no one can afford to buy any more.

Laundry lists are lazy writing. They don't tell a story. Hillary did not, I feel, tell a story. She started her speech well, letting everyone know she's for Barack Obama. But I would have told a story. Intro: "Don't worry, I'm supporting Barack Obama." First section: "I started this campaign because I have a vision of America moving into the future doing X, Y and Z." Second section: "Bush and McCain are wrecking this country by doing the exact opposite." Third section: "And that's why I'm not going to sulk over losing the nomination -- that's why I'm fully supporting Barack Obama."

Or, riskier... don't start with the endorsement. Leave it hanging until the end. Then people will be parsing every word. Your supporters will be hanging on everything you say to see if you're going to endorse or not.

I also thought Hillary blew a couple of good shots at call-and-response:
Now, John McCain is my colleague and my friend.

But we don't need four more years of the last eight years.

More economic stagnation and less affordable health care.

More high gas prices and less alternative energy.

More jobs getting shipped overseas and fewer jobs created here at home.

More skyrocketing debt and home foreclosures .and mounting bills that are crushing our middle class families.

More war and less diplomacy.

More of a government where the privileged come first and everyone else comes last.
Two problems with this section. One, the country doesn't really have "less" affordable health care or "less" alternative energy. It just hasn't improved. Two, she's using some parallel construction but it's not consistent. This really wanted to be call-and-response:
Now, John McCain is my colleague and my friend.

But we don't need four more years of the last eight years.

MORE foreclosures and LESS jobs.

MORE war and LESS diplomacy.

MORE corruption and LESS competence.

MORE jobs going overseas and LESS jobs at home.
Etc. You'd get the audience participating. Or, make it simpler:
Do we want to see America sucked into more foreign wars? (NO!) Do we want to see our government agencies ruined by corruption and cronyisms? (NO!) Is America a country that tortures its prisoners? (NO!)

It also wasn't an enormously memorable speech. There was only one good line:
Now, with an agenda like that, it makes perfect sense that George Bush and John McCain will be together next week in the Twin Cities. Because these days they're awfully hard to tell apart.
But hey. It probably did the job.

The media, of course, are writing articles about how "some Hillary supporters still have doubts" blah blah blah. No doubt they had those articles written before her speech. Because with 18 million supporters, you have to suppose that some of them are not going to like Barack Obama if he came to their front door with flowers and candy and gave them a new car. Anyone who's serious about what Hillary stands for, though, has to back Obama at this point.

Looking forward to Bill's speech tonight. I believe that man knows how to give a speech.



Honestly this is going to sound so shallow, but I was so distracted by that hideous pantsuit and the joke about the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pantsuits that I couldn't concentrate on what she was saying.

I hate pantsuits, is my point. And therefore it was a terrible speech.

By Blogger Emily Blake, at 11:00 AM  

Well, Emily, I have it on very good authority that John McCain LOVES pantsuits. In fact he wants to pass a law requiring women to wear them. Just like Cindy. She wears pantsuits all the time!

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 11:05 AM  

That's it. If McCain wins I'm moving to Canada.

By Blogger Emily Blake, at 11:40 AM  

. . .but yet Hillary's fans go crazy over the speech (at least, from what I overheard from the other room as I was writing and making dinner while the wife watched the speech), including a co-worker of mine.

I guess a couple phrases could always come into play here: "Preaching to the choir" and "There's no accounting for taste." I don't mean these phrases to necessarily criticize them, but it's certainly interesting to read your criticism while also seeing other people's enthusiastic reactions to the speech, both pro and con.

This dissonance of response probably highlights the common issue of just how critical the audience is or can be, whether it be a reaction to a drama or a political speech. Everyone probably has their view about the audience. plenty of people I know almost say as a knee jerk response how disappointed they are in the stupidity of their fellow countrymen (and these are people who vote Democrat) while I find active professional writers have a lot of confidence in how critical the audience can be, even while the executives that call the shots with money and marketing often disagree, stating that market and social research says otherwise (that "the People" are uncritical and don't want things to be complicated).

These are just some thoughts on my mind in wake of the varying responses to Hillary's speech.

By Blogger The_Lex, at 11:43 AM  

Alex, its too bad that you are now having to preface your posts with "This one's about politics! Watch out!"

It's too bad that earlier commenters didn't notice that most of your delving into political foray was all about the speeches and the writing. Last I heard, there was a bit of dialogue in screenwriting, and I think you would make a fine speech writer. Thanks for everything.

By Blogger Todd, at 2:17 PM  

I thought the speech was amazing. She was speaking directly to women, and to feminists, in a way we really needed. Her discussion of the nexus between women's suffrage and civil rights was brilliant. Most of all, she made a great pitch right at the voters that Obama really needs.

Also, I think you missed something. She told a very profound "story" - about Harriet Tubman and how we (read: Democrats, but also women) need to "keep going" even in the face of attacks and adversity. It was at once a story about Hillary, a story about women, and story about Democrats, civil rights, and those who seek change. It brought home why we are all fighting the same fight. And it was exactly what was needed.

Brava Hillary and go Obama.

By Blogger Norma Desmond, at 3:28 PM  

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