Forget the beef: Where are the speeches?
February 24, 2016
Following Bernie Sanders' lead, presidential candidates should publish collections of their best speeches.
A question for press secretaries and presidential campaign managers of every political persuasion: Where are the speeches?
Rather, where are the books of speeches – hundreds of pages of rhetorical pomp and circumstance, of grandiloquent style and epigrammatic elegance – that give the issues their due, pay the voters their respects and honor the best traditions of elective office?
With one notable exception, there are no such books.
There are patchwork autobiographies from Republicans, and a memoir (of sorts) from former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
The outlier, as in all things, is Bernie Sanders, the socialist senator from Vermont, who seeks the Democratic presidential nomination.
And, while the following is most certainly not an endorsement of Sanders’s philosophy or candidacy, he deserves credit for releasing a book, The Speech: A Historic Filibuster on Corporate Greed and the Decline of the Middle Class, about his most famous address; an eight-and-half-hour stemwinder, from December 10, 2010, in which the senator’s signature style (or style-free manner, in comparison to the likes of Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio), continues to galvanize people worldwide.
An excerpt of the speech, which has 124,069 views on YouTube, as well as the entire filibuster (which has 60,394 views), proves that speech-making is alive and well.
Sanders plays the role of political pugilist; which is to say, like an aged boxer – without speed and unable to do hard running because his knees cannot take the pressure, and with calcium deposits and arthritis throughout his neck and joints – he relies on blunt force trauma, instead; he throws a punch with maximum force, making his point reverberate throughout the well of the United States Senate.
He pounds the lectern with hammer blows of assertions and statistics, leaving no doubt about the clarity of his convictions.
There are no references to Greek poets, no citations of Shakespearean verse, no summons to glory.
His speech, which lasts the course of a typical workday, combines outrage with repetition, facts with faces, and names with places.
Without the bravado of Trump, and free of the faux populism of Cruz and the robotic responses of Rubio, Sanders’s speech is effective because it is an amplified indictment of a system he believes is corrupt – an economic situation he knows (others beg to differ) is the enemy of working families.
Sanders has no catchphrase – “Feel the Bern” is not the stuff upon which sculptors engrave monuments to politicians – but his speech has heart.
That it continues to attract viewers and generate sales – the book currently has an Amazon ranking of 7,512 – reveals there is a market for books containing political speeches.
Compare that figure with John Kasich’s book about religion, Every Other Monday: Twenty Years of Life, Lunch, Faith, and Friendship, which has a ranking of 32,521.
The point: The Bern burns at a perpetually high temperature, which further separates his speeches from his principal opponent, Mrs. Clinton, and his billionaire analog on the Republican side, “The Donald.”
Where Trump overlaps with Sanders concerning opposition to existing trade agreements and the desire to tax carried interest as ordinary income, the former depends on superlatives while the latter places them in their proper context.
For Trump almost everything is terrible, which will soon (upon his inauguration as president) become great again.
For Sanders there is so much bad news because there are so many bad actors, from too big to fail banks and investment houses to crony capitalists and rich lobbyists.
Sanders’s speech confirms that there is an audience – substantial in size, and significant in the sound of its applause – for political rhetoric.
One need not join this chorus for speechwriters to acknowledge that the demand for this material, as a paperback book or digital download, is genuine.
Now is the time to revive this art form, for the good of the presidency and those who pursue it.
Now is the time for candidates to publish – and sell – the collected copies of their best speeches.
Dr. Julie Albright is a lecturer at the Viterbi School of Engineering at the University of Southern California. She is also the cofounder of Walden Bromley, a full-service media relations and speechwriting agency. She's a frequent guest on the Today Show, CNN Headline News, NBC Nightly News, CBS 2 News, NBC News, E! True Hollywood Story, and radio programs including NPR and Austrian National Radio.