Friday, January 21, 2005

 

Even Hitler had a Convertible

Executive Summary: Politicians should write their own danged speeches. At least a couple of the major ones.


I hadn't known there was an official ranking, but I read in William Safire's column in The New York Times today that Bush's Inaugural Address was among the "top 5" of the nation's 20 second-inaugural speeches.

It was a close thing, though, because his inaugural speechwriter had a heart attack halfway through the writing process. (Can't say I blame the guy. I'd have a heart attack too, if I had to write speeches for George Bush.) George called him in the hospital and was magnanimous enough, Safire reports, to inquire after his health. If the fellow had died, would George have had to write his own speech? Maybe he was concerned about that, too.

Safire portentously nicknames the speech "the Freedom speech" and notes, apparently approvingly, that Bush (or the stricken speechwriter?) mentioned the words "freedom, free, liberty" 49 times. Which I have to admit is very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very good.

(That was 49 "verys." Well, it was meant to be, anyway. I was too bored to check.)

Safire concedes that Lincoln's second inaugural address (which was actually written by Lincoln) was "incomparable," but ranks Bush's Top-5 speech higher than Thomas Jefferson's "mean-spirited pouting" during his second inaugural. Well, naturally. I think we'd all be shocked if George W. Bush were ever to be as mean-spirited as Thomas Jefferson! Although Old Tom wrote his own speech, too, so perhaps we should give him a break.

I wonder if the speech would have been even better if Bush had mentioned "free, freedom, liberty" 51 times. Maybe if he had mentioned those words 80 times, or 240 times, or 564 times, the speech would have ranked #1 among all second-inaugural speeches? Or #2 to the incomparable Lincoln? I confess my ignorance of the ranking system.

Meanwhile, Bush made his way down Pennsylvania Avenue in a new Presidential limosine, surrounded by an army of security that even hyper-conservative magpie George Will said made the U.S. look like "a banana republic." ("Baby Doc" Bush? Hmm; I like it.) The front window of the spiffy limosine was flat, and looked to be about half a foot thick. I wonder what kind of round it was built to withstand?

Exactly how dangerous is D.C., anyway? Even Hitler had a convertible.

So is it just me, or does anyone else think we should make Presidents write their own speeches? Maybe they're too busy. So maybe we could require that they do it once, twice, or three times per term?

In Bush's case, such a requirement might be a little problematic. Consider his recent ponfitication on his Social Security "reform," in the Wall Street Journal interview (I'm quoting from The New Yorker):

That’s part of—that’s part of the advice my new National Economic Council head will be giving me as to whether or not we need to—here is the plan, or here is an idea for a plan, or why don’t you just fix it. I suspect given my nature, I’ll want to be—the White House will be very much involved with—I have an obligation to lead on this issue—I think this will be an administrative-driven idea—to take it on. And therefore, that that be the case, I have the responsibility to provide the political cover necessary for members, I have the responsibility to make the case if there is a problem, and I have the responsibility to lay out potential solutions. Now, to the specificity of which, we’ll find out—you’ll find out with time.


It's not news, but this is not a man who has a Lincolnian way with words. Actually, passages like the one above alarm me anew each time I come across one. They seem to be evidence of badly confused thinking. If I had a student who spoke that way, I'd probably recommend him for testing. But maybe not. Who knows?--But wouldn't it be interesting to know how the guy talks when he gets to clarify his thoughts beforehand by writing down what he wants to say? And put it in his own words, I mean. "In your own words, please address the Nation...."

Bush is not the first President to rely wholly on speechwriters, and I feel no less critical of his predecessors than I do of him in this regard.

But clearly, if he had to write his own speech, he wouldn't be anywhere near the Top 5. In fact, he probably wouldn't make the hit parade at all.


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