Political Speeches #
Excerpts from Words that elevated debate now hot air, John Huxley SMH, September 17, 2011
In his controversial portrait of the former prime minister Paul Keating, Recollections of a Bleeding Heart, Don Watson describes the political speech in a multitude of ways.
It should be, he suggests, a matter of record, a lover’s embrace, a defence against barbarism, a ‘‘civilised gesture towards order and respectability in a world which prizes spontaneity and tends towards chaos’’.
By classical definition, great oratory is the felicitous product of style, substance and impact. That is, a masterful construction of words to create texts that are beautiful both to hear and read; a worthy theme that appeals, informs and inspires, and a memorable ability to open hearts, change minds, move nations.
Though mention is usually made of Jesus Christ and, uneasily, of Adolf Hitler, most lists of great English-speaking orators are headed by leaders such as Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln.
Lincoln’s 1863 Gettysburg Address is still regarded by many as the most elegant, emotional, memorable blend of political content and style.
Significantly, it was probably self-penned, delivered after another more famous orator had spoken for two hours, and lasted just a few minutes. At 240-odd words, it was little more than a soundbite.
But Lincoln and the others belonged to ages when politicians and speechwriters had time to think, compose and deliver, when their publics had the time, the respect and, just as important, the mind to listen.
The information revolution has multiplied the sources of political messages, and empowered attention-challenged, time-poor, twittering audiences who are as likely to be in ‘‘transmit’’ as ‘‘receive’’ mode.
‘‘We live in a post-trust era,’’ Tim Noonan, a voice consultant of Vocal Branding Australia, says. ‘‘Increasingly, politics has become all about presentation and packaging. Polish is king.’’ Words speak louder than actions.
It makes the task of political ventriloquists and their dummies, trying to find the proper words, the right voice, even the appropriate medium in which to deliver their message, that much more difficult.
Watson noted: ‘‘In making speeches politicians are required to transform themselves from the political incarnates of ordinary people to performers. Performance does not come easily to everyone.’’