As both a speaker and an American voter, I was keenly interested in what the presidential and vice presidential candidates had to say at their conventions over the past two weeks.
American political conventions have turned into extended informercials for their political parties. The party candidates have long been selected in the primaries, and the parties work after the front-runner has been decided to present a show of unity. Look how far the Clintons went to show enthusiastic support for former Democratic rival Barack Obama. So, there isn’t any real drama at a political convention. (The revelations about the Republican VP nominee Sarah Palin made things interesting in St. Paul. Still, the Republicans still went out of their way to show unified support for her.)
So, what did I think about the speeches for the candidates? Here is my assessment based solely on the quality of their presentations, not their political viewpoints.
First the vice presidential candidates, Sarah Palin for the Republicans vs. Joe Biden for the Democrats. I’m looking forward to their debate because these two attack dogs are going after each other. Both of them had hard-hitting speeches that ripped into the other side. I felt Palin was especially impressive, showing confidence and aggressiveness after a nearly a week of constant scrutiny. She showed she was no one to be underestimated. Then again, no one gets elected to governor of any state, even one as seemingly “out in the sticks” as Alaska, by being a weak and unconfident communicator. Biden’s speech showed more substance and understanding of the issues that concern voters, but Palin matched him in her passion and in effectively building a case for herself and her party. She will give the experienced senator a real challenge.
Now for the presidential candidates, Barack Obama for the Democrats vs. John McCain for the Republicans. Sorry, Republicans, but Obama tops McCain in the speaking department. What was fascinating about Obama’s acceptance speech wasn’t the Greek columns behind him, it was the 80,000 people cheering in front of him. He built a strong case for his candidacy while dismembering the Republican side. He spoke with authority and confidence, but with an accessible tone and choice of words. He got people nodding in agreement – which was more important to him at this point of the campaign than bringing people to tears.
In comparison, McCain’s speech fell flat. It seemed more of the rah-rah speech that all politicians give to rally their party. He didn’t seem to reach beyond the faithful in the arena to undecideds and the skeptics across the country. Sorry again, but the prisoner-of-war story is getting tired. Yes, we know McCain was horribly tortured as a POW in Vietnam. Yes, we know that he is a courageous and honorable man of character. We heard about that all week from the speakers at the convention. He needs to tell us more about what he will do as president and why his administration would do a better job than President Bush’s.
Of course, the candidates’ policies and proposals are much more important than their speaking abilities. Voters need to evaluate the candidates on their viewpoints and their ability to perform the duties of the President of the United States, not on whether they can move an audience. But these candidates will depend on their speaking abilities to show voters why they are the better choice. They will need to display eloquence, insight, and confidence if they want to gain voters’ trust. With this in mind, it’s important for us to listen to all of the candidates – not only to decide who should be the next president, but to learn what works and what doesn’t in convincing others to accept us and our point of view.