I was invited to sit in on a conference call with some political speechwriters this week. As we discussed President-Elect Biden’s rhetoric, I said something that annoyed some of the participants.
I said I enthusiastically looked forward to a year or two of boring speeches.
Asked to clarify, I said I look forward to a year or two of speeches where the speaker gets up and says, as articulately and as clearly as she or he can, exactly what she or he is expected to say: the appropriate thing, in the plainest language.
“I think what David is trying to say,” interjected the mildly stricken convener of the politely agitated group … well, I don’t remember what he said he thought I was trying to say—something about how speeches can still be inspiring, but in a gentle and non-provocative sort of way.
All speeches, like the leaders who give them are servants to the moment. And actually, I believe leaders getting up and saying normal, traditional, evidence-based things is the inspiring thing to do at this moment. More ethos and logos for now—hold the pathos.
I don’t remember four sentences that Joe Biden has spoken over the last four months. That’s because he hasn’t said anything inflammatory, imbecilic, boastful or even memorable, really. And that has been remarkable. Inspiring, even.
There will be another time when another kind of leadership is called for, and another kind of speech; and that time could come at any time.
But this time isn’t it: And professional speechwriters get paid to know that, more than they get paid to write mellifluous words in rhythms that raise goosebumps.
That’s what David was trying to say.
And now, for a more serious take on the matter, please hear the wisdom of Jebidiah Atkinson, American patriot, speech critic, and failed speechwriter.