Friday, September 21, 2018

Politicians Speaking

My son sent me a video of Beto O’Rourke at a campaign town meeting and I just went off.  He hadn’t even gotten to the subject matter in his scripted response and I was just thinking.  Liar.  Liar.  I got more critical from there. It still bothers me just thinking about it. (Update: Now not so much after the following comparisons, though. Beto doesn't look quite so bad.)

I decided I was being unfair to O’Rourke, by comparing a politician’s speech to regular everyday speech for honesty and presentation.  Because I never watch politicians, for exactly this reason, it’s like a one-man police lineup.  If people spoke as I want them to, with a brief, tightly-worded argument that anticipates possible objections, they would be very quotable – and unelected. It’s their job to convince people they are special leaders.  Part of how they do that is by distracting them with shiny objects, as one would with a toddler, or motte-and-bailey arguments.* Because it works.

So I thought it would be fairer to compare him to videos of other politicians, for content and presentation.  I just went to YouTube and put in their names and picked a short video that looked like it might be a talking point disguised as an answer to a question, as Beto’s was. I actually haven’t heard any of them very much, not even Trump, who I just hear sound bites, by his supporters or his opponents.

Ted Cruz –  I expected I was going to think “arrogant,” and that’s there, but not as strong as I thought.  What I’m seeing is some preacher going on, a little camp meeting. Not the sweaty, shouting guy.  The warm-up guy. A little too smooth, though. He looks less like Eddie Munster when he’s talking than he does in still pictures.

Elizabeth Warren -  Irritating, but I can’t place it.  Schoolmarm? No, she sounds like she’s forever on the verge of losing her temper and most teachers don’t do that. It would be hard to have someone talking like this in your kitchen, there’s too much energy spitting out, but I guess it’s supposed to play on the big stage. It’s like a parent lecturing a child – a lot like me, probably – and you hope it’s some other kid that you don’t like.
Donald Trump –   Unlike the rest of America, I actually haven't watched him much.  Just soundbites from his supporters and opponents.  Again, I was expecting mostly just “blowhard,” but there’s something else.  He’s like an old college football coach from the 80’s  Bear Bryant  No, that’s not it.  Nothing like him.   Woody Hayes   Oh my, yes.  We have resurrected Woody Hayes and elected him president of the US.

Bernie Sanders -  As God is my witness, I didn’t know he was Jewish until this minute.  Old Jewish guy, shaking his fist at the clouds, doesn’t listen to anyone else!  I can relate to this! Born in Brooklyn, moved to Vermont.  Of course! (Facepalm.)  I actually like this style. You can easily picture him saying “Get off my lawn.”

Alexandria Ocasia-Cortez  Holy crap.  “So, Madison was like at the basketball game, and she was wearing that tight sweater and was all over Hunter, and OMG I was just, like, I can’t believe this…”

Mike Pence  Okay, this is the good dad, who’s so disappointed in you, son, but I’m sure you’ll get right back on track and we’ll be seeing a better report card next time.  Any questions? Fine.  I’ll be checking back with you to look at that geometry homework every night for the rest of the week, then you’ll be on your own again.

Maxine Waters  I was expecting fiery, sharp, a little out-of-control.  Janis Joplin.   I wasn’t expecting slow and stupid. 

John Cornyn, the principal,  explaining at the emergency assembly why the prom is being cancelled because of all the arrests at the parties after the baseball championship.  And Cory Booker channeling Hoover in Animal House. 

Speaking of which, I’m glad I couldn’t find anyone of either party quite like this.  Maybe there’s hope after all.
Debbie Wasserman Schultz  “That speaker jack you injected into my spine is uncomfortable.  Stop making me say things, I want to stop now.”

Nancy Pelosi   Okay, the botox throws off the facial cues, but I didn’t make her get the treatments. This is like the lady across from you at lunch at a conference explaining some conspiracy theory, like the government covering up about Area 51, or GMO foods causing the extinction of 2700 species of butterfly in one year.  Does that seem unfairly extreme of me?  She has said  “Civilization as we know it would be in jeopardy if Republicans win the Senate.”

A lot of folks in this one  but combined with this one of Grassley, I have to say he is plodding rather than charismatic, like a bank vice president who is patiently explaining that the out-of-town developers aren’t getting a loan because the bank’s long-established criteria suggest they won’t be able to pay it back. The out-of-town developers are acting like they have been through this before with other banks and are sure they’re going to get their way eventually.  I have always said it would be good to have a boring president. Worth a try, anyway.

*The speech was: Do I think kneeling in protest is disrespecting the flag, our country, and our veterans?  Well it’s a peaceful protest. (No one ever said it wasn’t.) Selma was a peaceful protest.  Let me tell you how wonderful Selma was, including WWII vets. 60’s. Freedom Riders. Selma. Names and places that are invocations. Did you notice that I mentioned veterans? My God, Selma and the Civil Right Movement was great. How can people be against Selma?  This is the same thing, because it’s peaceful.  Also, black people are sad about 0.01% of the deaths being unfair because of police mistakes evil, so pay no attention to the funerals all those other black families have to go to. Except for the sadness part.  We want to build on that, and redirect it all to injustice that politicians can fix, just by caring and funding programs that talk about things.


Aggie said...

This is really funny, a great effort and thanks for pulling it together. You forgot to cover the screeching banshee, though.

RichardJohnson said...

Thank you for doing what I haven't had the stomach to do. I doubt that I have seen more than one minute at a time of any politician. That is based on my preference for written transcripts, though.

Your take on Poor Little Westchester Girl in da Bronx, a.k.a. Alexandria OC, was hilarious. A recording of Caroline Kennedy with too many "likes" in it was a factor in her not making it in politics.

Your take on Maxine Waters is like Donald Trump's take. I believe Trump said Maxine had an IQ of 65.

Elizabeth Warren- like parent lecturing a child. That is my take on Bernie Sanders, who for decades has been telling us how the dumb Americans need to become aware of all the great things those Latin American despots like Fidel or Daniel Ortega or Hugo Chavez are doing. Bernie has been lecturing us about those great Latin American despots for a half century. Recall Bernie's evocation of Chavista Venezuela-where you can more readily achieve the American Dream than you can in the US. My wish is that Bernie would move to Venezuela for HIS pursuit of the American Dream.

Bernie Sanders irritates the heck out of me when he gets on his soapbox about Latin America. He knows much less than the thinks he knows about Latin America. I do not like being lectured on Latin America by someone who knows very little about Latin America, when I can give a point-by-point rebuttal about his lectures on Latin America. I would love the opportunity to have a face to face debate with Bernie Sanders on Latin America.

Mayor Bernie Sanders Praising Bread Lines and Food Rationing in 1980s Nicaragua.
Bernie Sanders: "It’s funny, sometimes American journalists talk about how bad a country is, that people are lining up for food. That is a good thing! In other countries people don’t line up for food: the rich get the food and the poor starve to death."

Yup, those price controls in Sandinista Nicaragua did a number on agricultural production, just like they did in Chavista Venezuela. Food lines were the result. Which Mayor/Senator Bernie has never been aware of.

I would also call Bernie a scold.

Tom Bridgeland said...

I find it very hard to listen to pols talk. I get mad or disgusted and turn the channel. Pretty much all of them.

Your take on Cruz matches mine. Strong 'TV preacher' vibe, which I suspected would not play well in a general election. Trump blew him out by just talking. With Trump you get the impression he talks the same way all the time, to anyone, but in fact if you listen to old clips of him in conversation, he comes off very differently, and gives the impression he is paying sharp attention.

Texan99 said...

In principal I reject ridiculing men because they are (1) feminine or (2) not alpha enough, but calling him Beta O'Rourke is too funny to pass up.

When Warren was a lowly untenured professor at the University of Houston Law School ca. 1983, she was neither an unpleasant scold nor (to all appearances) an unhinged Leftist. What happened to her? Age, disappointment, the corruption of civilization in the last few decades, the inimical influence of Harvard? She is now a ridiculous and contemptible figure. O'Rourke got there younger. I don't think Texas voters will be as kind to him as his fanboys are making him think. Fleeing the scene of a drunk driving incident, having your Daddy get you off with a wrist-slap, dissing the flag, and dissing the police have not traditionally been routes to political success in the Lone Star State. Even hyper-liberal San Antonio just elected a Republican in a state senatorial district that had been blue for about 140 years.

Texan99 said...

Argghhh. "Principle." One of my least favorite spelling blunders.

Grim said...

As I have mentioned before, I usually don't listen to politicians speak. I prefer to read transcripts because the ideas are clearer in print, and many rhetorical tricks don't work in that context. For that reason, I really missed how powerful Trump's rhetoric can be for a very long time. Excepting a few speeches he's given in a disciplined way (and he has good speechwriters for those), his accustomed approach doesn't survive being turned into a transcript. It's not at all about the ideas he's actually putting into words. It's all about the engagement with the audience.

It turns out to be the case that he's very good at this sort of performance. It looks incoherent in print, but just listen to him engage the audience and it all is suddenly perfectly clear.

Grim said...

In [principle] I reject ridiculing men because they are (1) feminine or (2) not alpha enough...

I used to try, but I'm beginning to think that -- here as elsewhere -- there's some hidden wisdom in the idea of discouraging weakness. Disrespect for it is not the harshest way to teach that weakness, and fragility, are bad things to inculcate in one's self. The 'alpha' talk is just talk, and not well-informed; but the discouragement of what are called 'betas' (but would really be more like omegas in a wolf-pack, which humans don't form anyway) is something we could use.

Texan99 said...

My objection, of course, is that I don't think feminine is the same as weak. To me, it's like insulting someone by calling him a member of another race or ethnicity, which is a slur on the race or ethnicity used for the insult. The "beta" part is easier to stomach. I avoid it only because of my profound contempt for the "alpha" culture that sprang up in recent years.

Grim said...

Well, indeed, I was thinking of your comments from a few posts ago in part. Fragility is a growing problem in both sexes.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@ Grim - I think that's a good point that Trump doesn't work well in transcript but works well live. I come from a culture that values working as well (or better) in transcript because it requires one to speak with some precision.

Actually...looking over my relatives other than my immediate descendants, I find a culture that believes it values working in transcript, but is far less good at that than they think. They like playing to the small crowd at the meeting, party, or classroom, with transcript being secondary. Transcript speaking is more peculiar to my line directly, for whatever reason.

Back on task... For this reason, I don't prefer Trump's approach. However, I recognise that leaders are often not transcript people, but work-the-room people. It's a feature, not a bug. It makes Trump an easier target of criticism - like he needs that - but that may be unfair. Senators are transcript people, but we like electing Governors to the presidency - I think for good reason. Not that every governor is superior to every Senator, certainly, but leadership is different from advising and commenting.

I have noted before that leaders tend to look forward and burn the past, while commenters like to ponder the past for clues endlessly. They might study the past obsessively - think military leaders and football coaches - but they study only for learning, not for blame or regret.

Jonathan said...

My starting assumption with all of them is that they are frauds. I assume they will skillfully tell me what I want to hear. Therefore I try to focus on their deeds. I used to condemn Trump as an unprincipled crony-capitalist bully, and he may be one. I voted for him in the general election as the least-bad alternative since I think the Clintons are unacceptably dishonest and corrupt.

I have listened to/read some of Trump's speeches and agree that they are very good. However, what impresses me about him as president is that he does much of what he promised to do, he seems to have, for a pol, unusually good executive skills despite his quirks, and he really is the skilled negotiator that he claims to be. All of this is performance not words. Annual GDP growth @ 4% vs. 1.5% under Obama resolves many political arguments. Do I really need to listen again to Bernie Sanders, who hasn't done anything in his life other than to successfully game the system and to express admiration for international left-wing failures, to know that he is full of it? Do I really need to listen to Elizabeth Warren, who prefers for herself safe, unproductive academic and political sinecures, express contempt for people who regularly put their net worths at risk to create something?

Too many voters are impressed by words, appearance and style over results.