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March 22, 2012

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I agree that fewer speeches "just because" would be better. But I also think you've hit on part of the challenge that faces the president or any political figure: how many show up to actually listen? Most show up to have their existing views (for or against) reinforced, and they'll only really hear the bits that do that. And they'll probably pay more attention to the usually vacuous analysis by the pundits afterwards.

If people are going to take the time to listen to a speech, maybe they should make the effort to really listen and hear what he's saying.

Interesting stuff, David. I've been around so long I was in college when poli sci profs discovered the IBM card sorter, divorced qualitative interpretation and married the quantitive and statistical analysis George Edwards practices so confidently. I'm more the interpretative kind of guy with some random thoughts this morning on presidential public speaking - it's not about post-speech snapshot polls or vote-counting metrics. It is about imprinting a sense of familiarity, trustworthiness and leadership upon the audience - maybe, even, comfort and inspiration. E.g., Reagan to the nation on the Challenger explosion, or on D-Day's cliffs of Normandy. Bush the Younger in the rubble of Ground Zero (good), or later in Jackson Square in post-Katrina New Orleans (bad). Clinton speaking on just about anything. Obama at the 2004 convention. Palin at 2008. Amplified through sound bite and talking heads, the rhetoric acts as an impression delivery system. Done consistently and well, it's one way we come to feel we "know" and trust the leader. Once trusted, a leader can actually lead. Ask someone the next day what the President said and few will remember the details of policy and program, but they will retain an emotional impression that may be lasting, for better or for worse. Rhetoric matters because impressions matter - and most likely are Etch A Sketch resistant. Most of us writers don't work for The President; most of our clients want speeches that merely inform. Once in a while, though, we have a speech that's intended to provoke a course of action. The most memorable metric of my experience was when my speaker told his audience "I want the White House to get the message" and a few hours later the President's chief-of-staff called to say "we hear you." Now that one mattered!

Emotion is almost everything- and what isn't doesn't matter and will soon be forgotten.

Yep, fellers, this is why I like having writers for readers.

This point right here is so important that I'm embarrassed I didn't lay tongue to it myself: "Done consistently and well, it's one way we come to feel we 'know' and trust the leader."

And done inconsistently and badly, we're left not being able to know or trust or rely on a leader.

There's a reason there are daily columnists (and bloggers): Reading someone frequently, listening to someone react to the news of the day, regularly being able to turn to them and get their take ("didjarreadRoykotoday?") even if you don't always agree with it--it gives you a kind of north star when you don't always have the time or equilibrium to do your own navigation.

Which is what a president is supposed to be and what he's supposed to do.

And why he speaks so often.

Emerson, thank you. Peter, Rueben, thank you too.

And as for you, Ezra Klein: Aren't you ashamed of yourself?

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