By Mary Kate Cary, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
President Obama gave a great speech last night—well delivered, gracious to his political opponents, concise and understandable. I cannot remember the last time a president put any humor into a joint session address. His "Don't mess with Joe" line reminded me of the Joe Biden impersonator on Saturday Night Live yelling "Biden Alert!" every time he enters a room. My favorite part of the speech was at the end, when the President quoted Ty Sheoma Bethea, who asked for help for her crumbling school by telling everyone, "We are not quitters." She had a look in her eye that told the room she was much older than she appeared—sort of an "old soul" type of child. The president repeated it several times, and I have to admit I got a little choked up.
So I laughed, I cried, I thought it was too long, and I disagreed with large portions of his agenda. But I think it worked.
I taught a class in speechwriting last week, and one of the tips I gave the grad students at Texas A&M was that a good speech gets your audience off the couch: it motivates them to vote for you, to give you money, to buy your product, to volunteer for your cause. You decide your "bottom line" message and then make every part of the speech reinforce that idea. Well, the president's bottom line was: We Will Recover. He told us how we will bring that about, and why it's important that we do. He did it with strong language and his examples were well-chosen.
The other thing we covered in class is the idea that brevity is the soul of virtue. You want a speech to be immortal, not eternal. As much as I loved the last ten minutes of the speech—great oratory that rose above politics and called on our better selves—I must say the speech was just too long. The last ten minutes were immortal, the rest bordered on eternal. When he hit the one-hour mark and still hadn't said a word about foreign policy, I got antsy. I got distracted by the irony of Nancy Pelosi cheering when the president called for ending taxpayer financing of private jets and fancy drapes. (I've never been in Speaker Pelosi's Capitol office, but I'd bet my last dollar there are some pretty fancy drapes in there, and they're on our bill.)
Over the next few weeks, as details of the budget emerge, I'm sure we'll discuss the merits of the administration's proposals. In the meantime, let's see if the president was able to instill confidence in people and get them off the couch. I'll be surprised if both his approval rating and the stock market don't start rising over the next few days.
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