Speeches and Non-Speeches
The Republican Noodling Convention ( I say "noodling"- because all they did was noodle around a bunch of old ideas and put some Palin-dressing on them) was concluded on Thursday night by a few too many words from John McCain. The occasion was hailed as a speech, but alas it was not. This would not have been so painfully obvious but for two earlier offerings in the same vein. The first we can dispose of quickly: Sarah Palin (actually her speech writers and coaches) get high marks for her self-introduction to the American people who do not live in Alaska. The only thing missing from her presentation were pom-poms and a cheerleader outfit emblazoned with hockey sticks. She fed the ravenous crowd the red meat they craved, stretched the truth in measured quatrains just enough to arouse the senses of the senseless and carefully gave America the feminine version of the famous Cheney sneer. And the crowd went wild! (She lied, too, but nobody noticed. After all Romney, Huckabee and Guiliani did that, too.)
The second, and an event unrivaled in recent memory, and not anywhere near to being as childish and churlish as Palin's, was the oratory delivered last week, in Denver, by Barack Obama. A commentary on this speech is of course late on the scene, but after the non-speech of John McCain, it should be re-visited. By laying these two works side by side (which you must do, because they are both acceptance speeches for nominations to the same high post in the land), it becomes very easy to discern which is the real speech and which is the forgery. One is authentic and one is a cheap reproduction.
The metaphor I use here is that of a piece of furniture. We tend to think of furniture as a household item, something of value, something which endures. You might even want it to pass it down from generation to generation. Ideally, it would evoke quality, lasting beauty and strength. And you surely would not want to be ashamed to have it in your house. It should be able to withstand the test of critical discernment and won't fall apart if your elders need to lean on it. Let's say the furniture example is a chair.
Obama's chair (speech) is crafted from fine, carefully selected woods (words), well matched in color and shaped in good proportion (good paragraphs, careful puncuation and the correct length). The joinery is hand-done and appropriate to the function required and the strength needed for future use (logical, direct and appropriate).The upholstery is comfortable but durable (has vision, foresight and realism) and the final finish is smooth, attractive, scratch-resistant and blends well with the environment (proper vocabulary, good sentence structure and format that delivers specific points and addresses the prominent and important issues). This chair looks and good and feels good. And you know it meets your needs and will still be able to do that again tomorrow. It costs real money but represents real, lasting value. It is hand-made (personally written) or very nearly so, has unique qualities (you haven't heard it forty-one times before) and you can sit in it any time you like or throw your coat on it ( it is repeatable, has viability and flexibility). You are proud to have this chair. You display it proudly (tell everyone about it) and don't think of it as disposable (not forgotten tomorrow or wishing you hadn't bought it in the first place.
Then there is the McCain chair (non-speech). To begin with, it was sold to you as new, but you find out is a copy. And it has been refinished several times. It was not crafted (authentic) but manufactured (artificial). The materials were selected for their availability at the least possible cost and no attempt was made to match color or timbre or texture (coarse words, sloppy puncuation, run-on sentences). The joiner is all machine cut for ease of assembly and reduced cost of production (no forethought or attention to detail) and there is little or no consideration concerning durability or life expectancy (the imagery is thin and worn, the message largely forgotten tomorrow.). Upon closer inspection, you see that the materials are non-recyclable stuffs bonded with carcinogenic glue and held together by cheap metal fasteners (My friends, my friends, my friends). The upholstery is slick and synthetic (U.S.A., U.S.A!) and the lead-based finish has been sprayed on and will water stain easily (nice hair and nice suit, Cindy). This was all machine made by the RNC and is not unique (there have been 30 or so just like it passed around every four years for the last several decades), it is already well worn (McSame- old) and if you throw your coat on it it will scratch easily (doesn't hold water tomorrow). It appears to have been untouched by human hands, except for the Chinese worker who packed it in Indonesian plastic in a cardboard container made in Taiwan for shipment to Wal-Mart where you bought it ( "I travelled all the way to the Twin Cities and all I got was this lousy imported tee-shirt with an elephant on it!"-). Now that you have it, it is nothing to be proud of and it doesn't feel very good. Sometime in the next week (you figure) it will break and you will find yourself putting it out by the curb with the trash. You will also hope the neighbors don't see it (Don't admit to anyone in the office that you actually watched the non-speech.)
Obama gave a real speech. He gave us a real chair. He gave us a platform, if you will. McCain gave a non-speech and gave us, well, nothing we can sit, stand or depend on, rely on, lean on or pass down. You can invest your time and money wisely in November, plan for the future and be sitting tall, or you can hunker down at Wal-Mart and wait for someone to come pick up the trash for the next four years. You choose.