So how about that speech by Bill Clinton last night?

You can read the transcript, but the prepared text was 3,136 words. The speech Clinton delivered was 5,895 words. You need to watch the video.

You could listen to the audio on your drive to work... if you commute from Madison to Sioux Falls or Spearfish to Rapid City. But you won't see the fire in his eyes, the force in his face and hands. Clinton gave a full-body speech. You need to watch the video.

Twelve years ago I hated Bill Clinton. I cheered his exit from the White House. Had Twitter existed then, I'd have been responding to all his policy talk with the same whining South Dakota Senate Majority Leader Russell Olson was whining during the former President's speech last night:

Clinton lied to his wife and our congress and everyone in this country! Is this the best Obama can find as a credit reference [Sen. Russell Olson, Tweet, September 5, 2012].

Twelve years ago, I'd have gone there with Russ because, like Russ now, I couldn't grapple with a real policy debate. I'd cling to the personal and sloganly because it was much easier than confronting the success of Clinton's policies... and it is much easier for Russ and other Republicans now than confronting the power of Clinton's rebuttal of everything the GOP said at its convention last week.

Much is being made of the length of Clinton's speech, even by his biggest backers. But Clinton had a lot to say. It was important that he say it. It takes time to untangle the many tricky lines Romney and Ryan and Rush have spun. And you know, Clinton was President. If a former President wants to speak to his own party's convention, not to mention the nation, 50 minutes doesn't seem like all that much time to yield to the former leader of the free world... especially when he's that darn good at speaking.

Should I have the pleasure of teaching speech again, I will cite Bill Clinton's 2012 nominating speech for President Barack Obama as an exemplar of good speechmaking. Even when the political issues of this moment are forgotten (which, for high school kids, was five minutes ago), I will point to his hands, his eyes, his mix of quips and policy details, his constant sense of the urgency of reaching his audience, and his tremendous crescendo at the conclusion as examples of good speechcraft.

And I will tell my speech students that above all, like Bill Clinton, you have to own your speech:

If Clinton sounded sincere in his delivery, consider this as a novel possibility for why: He really believed the arguments he was making. And he was stating them in language that felt natural to him. With just a couple exceptions, you could pick just about any speech at random at either Tampa or Charlotte to find examples of the way many politicians do not own their own speeches. The consultant-driven lines — suburban women between 35 and 40 want you to say this — stand out like neon. So do the swollen, rhythmic passages that looked good on a speechwriter's laptop but obviously do not sound anything like the politician delivering the lines. Clinton gets plenty of speechwriter help and staff input on his speeches. But he never ends up being herded by the help into saying something that he doesn't actually think or that doesn't sound like the way he would put it [John F. Harris and Jonathan Martin, "How Bill Clinton Does It," Politico, September 6, 2012].

Say what you mean; mean what you say. Don't cheat on your wife ...but when you're making a speech, be like Bill.


Dennis Kucinich is not planning to challenge President Barack Obama in 2012. Maybe we can draft Robert Reich, who justifies efforts Kucinich and other rowdy Dems may make to beat the Obama-GOP tax-rate deal into better shape:

If the Democratic Party has stood for anything over the years it is to maintain and restore upward mobility for the majority of working Americans, ensure that the playing field isn't tilted in the direction of the privileged, and limit the power of the richest among us to entrench themselves and their heirs into a semi-permanent plutocracy.

Continuing the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003, including a sharp cut in the estate tax, violates these core principles. Doing so in the midst of an economic emergency that demands bold measures to rescue America's vast middle and working class adds further insult. For President Obama and former President Clinton to tell America there's "no other choice" or that "this is the best we can do" — when Democrats remain putatively in control of the House, Senate, and the presidency — is misleading [Robert Reich, "Why Democrats Should Disregard Bill Clinton's Endorsement of Obama's Tax Deal," blog, 2010.12.11].

Among the things I appreciate about Reich's call to principle is that he acknowledges that he admires his former boss and the current Commander-in-Chief as "good men." Yet he disagrees with them, civilly and passionately... just as we could in a good healthy primary. Hmmm... Reich-Kucinich 2012? Weiner-Paul?


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