Friday, September 05, 2008

John McCain, I am your Father: On Presidential Candidate Speeches


“Ask not what your country can do for you -ask what you can do for your country”

Remember that quote? Was it a Democrat or a Republican that said it? Its first utterance was over thirty years ago. However, the nugget of its motivational power has been used over and over to promote candidates during election. That’s right. It was said by John F. Kennedy in 1961 during his inaugural speech.

This time, it’s the Republicans that seem to have an undying penchant for chiasmus. Chiasmus is a neat literary device, but it registers not because an argument is particularly puissant, but because it sounds nice. It’s a cool language reversal trick. Check out some recent examples of it:

“We were elected to change Washington, and we let Washington change us” –McCain

“Some Candidates use change to promote their careers, McCain devotes careers to promote change” –Sarah Palin


What a strange election season we’re nearing, both in the US and in Canada! It’s a time of nasty speeches, and lots of different kinds of rhetoric.

I was surprised, hearing McCain’s speech last night, how much he sounded like an echo of our Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2006, when he promised to “change” the political stage by ushering in a new era of “transparency” and “accountability.” Those were the two things McCain promised last night of his own government. But if McCain’s promise is anything like Harper’s, then we can infer that by “transparency” that McCain means anything but.

Another thing I noticed about the McCain campaign and Republican speeches in general is how much they seem to ooze Peggy Noonan. For anyone who doesn’t know, Peggy Noonan is Bush’s speechwriter. She’s a brilliant woman. She writes brilliant speeches and brilliant articles for the Wall Street journal. One of her charms is tailoring her speeches to whoever is speaking. In Bush’s case, she does great work to disguise her work by mimicking his loose speaking style, dropping articles here and there to make it more Bush. I even suspected Palin’s speech was written by Noonan, but apparently not. Noonan’s reactions to Palin’s speech are interesting. It turns out Palin’s speech wasn’t written by George Bush’s current speechwriter. Rather, it was written by his old one, Matthew Scully! He worked for Bush for five years starting in 2000.

Of course, just because someone else wrote her speech is irrelevant. Many politicians have their speeches written for them. One thing Sarah Palin deserves is credit for delivery. She’s feisty. But what it points out is that McCain really is a lot like Bush. It’s the same people working for them both.

It always seems like someone is pulling the strings, but it’s hard to tell who. McCain likes to downplay how much of a Bush puppet he is yet the two of them are almost indistinguishable. There is an inverse relation between the public’s support of Bush and McCain’s implicit support of Bush. If you don’t believe me, check this out:



It’s funny that Palin attacks Obama’s “bitter” comments and tries to set herself up as the victim of that comment; a comment he made BEFORE it was announced she would be McCain’s running mate. She also attacks his words as becoming a “cloud of rhetoric.”

Obama’s speech focused on a vision of America that was based on tolerance and freedom. On the other hand, it is obvious McCain is only interested in the rights and freedoms of the few who support ongoing war. The word “fight” appeared repeatedly. He focused on an America he says he’s served “first and last” however much he was an “imperfect servant” of his country. It’s still unclear how applicable or relevant his experience as a POW during the Vietnam war is, but it seems that that type of experience is what resonates with Republicans, as if being a politician is merely a measure of how tough you are.

The idea that McCain deserves our respect as a politician because he deserves our respect as a soldier seems weak to me, but unfortunately it might be what the average voter will buy. And unfortunately the frequency of exposure that the media has given Sarah Palin will only help the McCain campaign. Ironically, Palin has given McCain more media exposure than ever, and that is exposure is largely due not because of her experience or skills, but because she is a woman, she is an Alaskan and her seventeen year old unmarried daughter is pregnant.

It makes you wonder what things would be like if Hilary Clinton was still in the race. Will Sarah Palin get John McCain Hilary Clinton’s votes?

1 Comments:

Blogger Devil Mood said...

It's all very crazy and confusing.
Since I don't have the same insight to the elections as you do (I've been following it but I don't get into the details), the one thing that's really paradoxal is hearing Bush say: 'we must continue with the "off-ense"', as he pronounced it, 'and the way to go is with McCain.'
And on the next day, McCain proclaims change, what they need and want is change. This makes no sense. Just like the chiasmus you mentioned that are truly empty words to fool the people.
I can't wait til November.

7:44 PM  

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