Ben Bernanke: If you’ve lost Cynthia Starks, you’ve lost America

Close followers of know that occasional contributor Cynthia Starks is not a gratuitous trouble maker, like Some People I Know.

The self-described freelance speechwriter from Central Indiana—oh, just say you’re from Indianapolis, Cindy!—is measured in her judgment and gentle in her criticism. As my mother would say, Cynthia Starks wouldn’t say “shit” if she had a mouth full of it.

But Ben Bernanke pissed her off—by boring her stiff.

She attended his Monday speech at the Economic Club of Indiana, and she found it wanting: “Bernanke read his workmanlike talk from a script, addressing each of the questions he had posed for himself, focusing mostly on inflation when many of us already know that story—it’s low; it’s staying low. We wanted to hear, instead, about the steps the Fed is taking to ease unemployment and why it’s waited so long to do so. After all, the Fed’s dual mandate is both fiscal stability and full employment.”

Bernanke isn’t the only one who made Cynthia Starks raving mad: “In the wake of Bernanke’s disappointing remarks and similar failings by other speakers I’ve heard recently, I’m beginning to wonder if the notion of the creative, well-crafted and compelling speech is just a myth. Do speakers really use story? Do they try to paint a picture their listeners can relate to? Do they make an effort to connect with their audiences?  To find out what they want and need to know? Do they use quotes, examples, humor? Are we speechwriters so beaten down by communications staff, editors with red pens or by the speakers themselves that we’ve given up even trying?”

But Bernanke bears the brunt: “Ben Bernanke is an intelligent and articulate man. He is in an important position of power in the United States. Big things happen based on his decisions and actions. He has an obligation to communicate clearly, often and well to the public he represents. I believe he failed that obligation yesterday in Indiana.”

Taking over for Alan Greenspan, who was known for being worse than boring—indeed, for speaking lots of utter nonsense—Ben Bernanke has been on a six-year communication honeymoon. Add to that the low expectations for crackerjack speeches from Fed chairmen on the subject of monetary policy, and no wonder the guy thinks he can get away with reading a text full of words like “moreover” and “accommodative.”

I appreciate and applaud Starks’ analysis, but here’s my question: Will the Fed chairman always deliver boring speeches designed primarily not to rock the financial boat? If so, maybe his crime wasn’t giving a boring speech; maybe giving boring speeches is actually his job. Maybe the crime was giving such a speech to a lay audience full of people like Cynthia Starks, sincerely looking for poker tips from a fellow who’s paid to keep his cards close to his vest.

Cynthia and I are here. Talk to us. —DM

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