Monday, September 17, 2012

Quantity Isn't Quality

One of the joys (sarcastically speaking, of course) of writing about politics is the necessity of listening to the speeches of their national conventions. These carefully crafted efforts have often become the launching pads for future political careers, as well as defining moments in elections, and as such these opportunities are carefully awarded.

Don't worry, I'll spare you any careful analysis of the shaded truth, jingoistic wisdom, and outright lies that we were subjected to in back-to-back conventions to talk instead about the sheer abundance of rhetoric that voters were subjected to by echelons of representatives. There was plenty of analysis during the conventions after all, and thank goodness they're finally over.  As we examine the sheer volume of bloviating however let's at least not that there was indeed a hierarchy to the performers and to the time allotted to deliver 'a few well-chosen words'.

Tier 3
These are the cheerleaders encouraged to whip the crowd into a frenzy with their inspirational orations before the main act, and their time is limited. Former White House Chief of Staff and now Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emmanuel for example, delivered a speech of some 1257 well chosen words; in a modest bit of bombast; and Democratic Keynote speaker San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro delivered an effort of just less than 2100 words at the pinnacle of his convention's Tier 3 efforts.

By comparison, Republicans trotted out up-and-comer Florida Senator Marc Rubio, who graced us with 1735 words. Surprisingly (and perhaps even suspiciously), New Jersey Governor Chris Christie delivered an effort of identical length; apparently not realizing that as Keynote Speaker, he had been awarded a larger allotment. 

Speaking of suspicious, I couldn't help by notice that former Governor of Arkansas and now Fox News personality Mike Huckabee delivered a speech of exactly 1776 words (something which I'm sure should be considered simply a patriotic coincidence for those without tin-foil chapeaus).

Tier 2
These higher ranking spokespeople are normally the spouses of the candidates which are used by them to explain their significant others; and this year both delivered reasonable efforts of greater lengths. Mitt Romney's wife Ann, evidently well-versed in rhetoric and numeric protocol, delivered a pronouncement of some 2331 words. It was greater than her Tier 3 predecessors, while allowing room to grow for those to come after. 

First Lady Michelle Obama, understanding that being is more than seeking, used her slightly greater status to give us about 3034 well-chosen words on her and her husband's behalf.   (Though perhaps such length had to do with the fact that even after 3-1/2 years in office, we know less about her husband than about any other person on the planet.)

Much like the GOP in Tier 3, Democrats had a celebrity Tier 2 speaker this year in the form of former President Clinton; whose status as a former Tier 1 put him greater in this Tier 2 arena (as did his performance). Being a savvy campaigner who apparently missed the big stage, President Clinton held onto the spotlight long enough to deliver 3190 words to insure everyone understood his abilities and his stature (current and former).

Tier 1
Tier 1 is reserved for the candidates and running mates, and they were well aware of it. Mitt Romney's selection, Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan came through with an effort of some 3229 words (slightly more than Clinton even without knowing). Our current VP Joe Biden came in only slight less with 3063 words.  In spite of extensive research, I was unable to discover if this lesser number had to do with feelings of inadequacy where Ryan and Clinton were concerned, or simply the Democratic party's heroic attempt to provide Biden less opportunity to produce a gaffe that even MSNBC couldn't spin.

When the candidates at the top of the pyramid took center stage, they too seemed naturally or artificially constrained to adhere to this unwritten etiquette.  Republican Mitt Romney managed to accept his party's nomination in approximately 4108 words. President Barack Obama took center stage as an incumbent President at his party's convention to accept an uncontested nomination in slightly greater effort of 4371 words.

By now you're probably pondering this statistical barrage, perhaps mildly curious about this even being noticed, and wondering what possible meaning it could have.  Since few of these speeches from either convention were soaring rhetoric and none produced ground breaking new policy, why so much concern over their length. It's the fact that so little was spoke about however, that's the point. Being subjected to hours of null value pontification aroused my curiosity as to how it might compare with other more eloquent and historically significant bits of rhetoric or composition. Here's the short list (literally) that came from the research that I did on the subject:  

  • Ronald Reagan's 1987 “Tear Down This Wall” speech … 2672 words.
  • The Declaration of Independence … 1458 words.
  • John F Kennedy's 1960 “Ask not ...” Inaugural Address … 1364 words.
  • George Washington's first Inaugural Address … 463 words.
  • And what is often conceded as the finest piece of Presidential rhetoric ever publicly delivered, Abraham Lincoln's “Gettysburg Address” … 246 words.
It seems apparent that with the passage of time and in spite of the advantages of our candidates being more well-educated professional politicians, the assistance of media savvy speech writers to help insure a well written script, and computer aided teleprompters to aid in the actual performance; our politicians seem unable to qualitatively deliver the message regardless of the quantity of their rhetoric.

Perhaps in fact, these technological advances have become a crutch rather than an aid to their efforts.  Speaking only for myself after listening to all of it, I am at pains to point out that it's not the quantity of your rhetoric that moves us, but its quality.  If you truly do understand the problems facing this nation as you would like us to believe, it shouldn't take long-winded grandiloquence to inspire us, but instead grand ideas, simply expressed and easily carried out.  So if we seemed a bit inattentive at the conventions or bored at the campaign stops, by all means do take it to heart.  It isn't quantity we ask of you after all, but quality. 

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