That is one assload of balloons.
The truly divisive figure is Michael Beschloss. For instance, I can't decide whether I want to be him or kill him or both.
Will Clinton warmly shake Trump's hand at the first debate? If you listen to her deliver her lines—"there is no other Donald Trump. This is it."—you wonder.
Obama is a poet, and Clinton is a human resources executive. If Clinton is elected, we'll miss Obama. If Trump is elected, we'll miss our country.
"Let's be stronger together, my fellow Americans. Let's look to the future with courage and confidence. ... And when we do, America will be greater than ever."
On Trump: "I admit. I couldn't believe he meant it either. ... But here's the sad truth. There is no other Donald Trump. This is it."
"I'm not here to repeal the Second Amendment. I'm not here to take away your guns. I just don't want you to be shot by someone who shouldn't have guns in the first place. ... How can we just stand here and do nothing? ... I refuse to believe we can't find common ground here."
"A man you can bait with a Tweet is not a man you can trust with nuclear weapons." Nice Jackie Kennedy quote too. I smell useful speechwriter involvement.
"No, Donald. You don't." Suddenly I just got a huge rush of excitement for the first presidential debate.
This "American First" line is good.
Bannon, who doesn't drink, believes Hillary looks like Martin Sheen. "That's not a knock; I like Martin Sheen and may still write in Jed Bartlett when I vote in November."
"[Trump] spoke for 70 odd minutes, and I do mean odd." Trump's 70 minutes were mesmerizing (and awful). This speech is one minute, 70 times.
New Supreme Court justices. Overturn Citizens United. More patriotic corporations. (?) More restrictions on Wall Street. Put people to work saving the environment. Immigration reform. Limit CEO pay. Raise the minimum wage. Healthcare as a right. Equal pay for women.
Shawn, here comes the vision! Listen up.
"Standing here as my mother's daughter and my daughter's mother ..." I'm my own grandpa.
Shawn, the vision is Donald Trump.
Bannon: "Didn't we hear all this from the other six people who stood up there and recounted her resume for the last four nights? Where's the VISION?"
"Simply caring is not enough. You have to change both hearts and laws."
"She was saved by the kindness of others .... No one gets through this life alone."
"The service part has come easier to me than the public part." Leaning forward.
My speechwriter pal Eric Schnure predicted It Takes a Village would come up tonight. I worry that It Takes a Village means to people, "It takes a decade." But it needed to be said tonight.
"Don't believe anyone who says, 'I, alone, can fix it.' ... Really? ... He's forgetting every last one of us."
"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." THAT IS WHAT WAS LEFT TO SAY!
"So far, HRC's speech is a snooze," sez speechwriting pal Shawn Bannon. Agreed. She resists (maybe for good and honest reason) the blarney required to give a good sermon.
Bernie looks miserable.
The video offers a better introduction than Chelsea did.
This really is a good video, is it not?
"And Mom—Grandma would be so, so proud of you tonight." And hello, Morgan Freeman.
"They taught me that's the responsibility that comes with being smiled upon by fate."
I'm charmed and skeptical at once. Notes, yes. But a note to a child about the ideas Hillary expected to bring back from Paris to Arkansas?
Who knew Jabba the Hut was a Katy Perry fan? (And a Democrat!)
What could possibly be left to say? We're about to find out.
While I've been motorbiking, boozing, blurting out and bouncing around Cleveland and Chicago in covering these wild conventions, I've been so grateful to have George Washington political science prof Michael Cornfield—a lovely man who I met in Cleveland—taking his time to write these steady, sane and fun "Rhetorical Recaps" of every important speech. Just in—his report on last night, sent with a note—"and then a break, I hope." Mike, you have one coming.
Just back from my daily run, lunch and CNN check to confirm that—despite all the industriousness, inventiveness, courteousness, patience, maternal love and peace evident over four miles here in Chiraq—the world is still a hot stinking mess that only Donald Trump can clean up. Check.
We might think better about "the establishment" if we referred to it as "the house we live in." Thus anti-establishment would mean, "I hate the house we live in." And the idea of tearing the establishment down would be expressed as, "tearing the house we live in down." And the question would come, "What sort of house are you going to build in its place? Do you have the building materials and do you have the skill?" I love me some radical thinking—but life ain't Lincoln Logs, and radical acting (and radical voting) requires responsibility.
Hillary Clinton ought to have every one of her staffers memorize these paragraphs from President Obama's speech last night, because they supersede Trump's inconsequential ups and downs and all the other funhouse echoes that don't seem to congeal into words that hold. These paragraphs are the whole point, and the more frequently and more imaginatively they can be repeated in various ways over the next three months, the less chance Trump has of winning.
Ronald Reagan called America "a shining city on a hill." Donald Trump calls it "a divided crime scene" that only he can fix. It doesn't matter to him that illegal immigration and the crime rate are as low as they've been in decades, because he's not actually offering any real solutions to those issues. He's just offering slogans, and he's offering fear. He's betting that if he scares enough people, he might score just enough votes to win this election.
And that's another bet that Donald Trump will lose. And the reason he'll lose it is because he's selling the American people short. We are not a fragile people, we're not a frightful people. Our power doesn't come from some self-declared savior promising that he alone can restore order as long as we do things his way. We don't look to be ruled.
Our power comes from those immortal declarations first put to paper right here in Philadelphia all those years ago. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that we the people can form a more perfect union. That's who we are. That's our birthright, the capacity to shape our own destiny.
Last night a close speechwriter correspondent who follows my live blogs closely, wrote at the end of President Obama's speech last night, "This is the problem with live blogging. He gave a great speech and now you feel like a dick for being petty in the middle."
I think he was referring to this post that I made toward the end of the speech.
"That's what happens when we try." And the [man-in-the] arena bullshit, that I've always hated, that gets used by every politician as a rebuke to all criticism. Thank God he didn't end on that hoary shit.
My friend is right: I probably should not have used that moment to jump on my hobby horse about Teddy Roosevelt's famous 1910 speech in which he said "it is not the critic who counts," but rather "the man who is actually in the arena ... who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."
Self-pitying leaders from Richard Nixon to Miley Cyrus have regurgitated that speech over the years to tell their critics off.
Of course Obama wasn't referring to himself as the unappreciated man in the arena, but rather Hillary Clinton as the put-upon woman. I still don't like it. I can give a "woman-in-the-arena" speech in appreciation for Hillary Clinton, and someday I just might. But Hillary can't give it, and either can another fellow beggar-for-public office like President Obama. You folks asked for this. Now people who find you wanting are mere "cold and timid souls"? No, not for you to say.
Still—it wasn't the time to get on my hobby horse, and I had I written a reasoned critique of the speech afterward, I would have positioned that as a quibble if mentioned it at all. But you would have been in bed by then. Look to this space today for said thoughtful "Rhetorical Recap" of last night, by George Washington political science professor and Vital Speeches contributor Michael Cornfield. And BYOB tonight, for another bullshit live-blogging of the main event.
I can't believe there's another night of this.
And Bannon answers my question: "I'm from the other side (though not really a Trump supporter at all), and I thought this was a very effective speech—far better than anything we heard at the RNC convention last week. I didn't vote for him in 08 or 12, but I think I'm writing Barack Obama into my ballot this November." Of course, that's not going to do anybody any good. So Bannon, and all Republicans, have to decide: Do they or do they not (mostly) believe what Barack Obama said about Hillary Clinton tonight? That's not a hard one for me. But I recognize it's a hard one for them. And I hope they make the right choice—and hope I'd make the opposite choice if there was somehow, someday, an opposite equivalent. Because as Ted Sorensen wrote: "We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal.”
Can anybody tell me, from either side of the aisle, that that speech was ineffective, or wanting in some important way? ("This guy is no Tim Kaine," Bannon cracks.)
"Time and again, you've picked me up. And I hope sometimes I've picked you up too. ... And how I'm ready to pass the baton. ... and elect Hillary Clinton president of the United States. ... Thank you for this incredible journey. Let's keep it going."
"These values could travel to Hawaii. ... to the other side of the world. .... They could be passed down to a half-Kenyan grandson. ... They knew these values were exactly what drew immigrants here. And they believed that the children of those immigrants were just as American as their own. ... America has changed over the years. But these values that my grandparents taught me—they haven't gone anywhere. They're as strong as ever. ... They live on in each of us. ... What makes us American, what makes us patriots, is what's in here. ... That's why anyone who threatens our values, whether fascists, whether communists, whether homegrown demagogues will always fail in the end. ... That's what Hillary Clinton understands."
"That's what happens when we try." And the arena bullshit, that I've always hated, that gets used by every politician as a rebuke to all criticism. Thank God he didn't end on that hoary shit.
"We all need to be as vocal and as organized and as persistent as Bernie Sanders voters have been in this election. ... That's right, feel the Bern."
The essential message here: Hillary knows what I know. The truth. Take it, he's saying, or leave it.
"We don't look to be ruled. America's never been about what one person says he can do for us ..."
"America is already great. America is already strong. And I promise you, our strength, our greatness, does not depend on Donald Trump. In fact, it does not depend on any one person."
Obama vs. Trump II. The first match didn't go well for Trump.
He's sounding genuinely surprised at how sincere a public servant Hillary Clinton is "after all these years." He's not saying she's funny, he's not saying she's imaginative, he's not saying she's anything but straight-up smart and dutiful and knowledgeable. A little credible?
"Most of all, I see Americans of every party, every background and every faith [who believe] we are stronger together. That's what I see. That's the America I know. And there's only one candidate in this race who believes in that future."
Understatement: "This is not your typical election." Sets up credible statement: "What we heard in Cleveland last week wasn't particularly Republican. And it sure wasn't conservative."
This is sounding like a State of the Union Address in arrears.
"I was so young that first time in Boston." (Only 12 years ago? Why did that shock me?)
I often try to see the only president I've ever loved through the eyes of people who hate him. It's easiest to see their point of view when watching one of these horrible fucking propaganda videos, that would embarrass Goebbels.
Gold star mother for VP!
And, Rachael Maddow loved it, presumably because he didn't say the word "girl." Adds Shawn Bannon: "Tim Kaine is at his best when he's doing the world's worst Donald Trump impression."
Speaking of speechwriters, that conclusion was definitely written by one—and would have been better delivered by one. That was a total snoozer of a speech, and will be forgotten before I ... what?
Kaine quotes the ghostwriter of The Art of the Deal, from the New Yorker profile every ghostwriter should read: "Lying is second nature to him."
My dad once said a Cleveland Browns placekicker named Dave Jacobs was "a perfectly nice guy, who ought to be running a car wash." Why did that come to me right now?
The Bern's not feeling it.
Will he go through all 10 Commandments?
Speechwriter pal Shawn Bannon: "Tim Kaine should emntion that if elected he'd cure us all of our insomnia. Good grief. You know when they say a speaker is so good he could read the phone book and people would listen? They aren't talking about Tim Kaine."
Her sister (my wife): "'Jamoke' doesn't come to mind, but 'goody two-shoes' does."
My sister-in-law texts, "I don't know what 'jamoke' really means, but it seems like Kaine is it."
"Can I be honest with you? I never expected to be here. But let me tell you how it happened." These should have been the very first words of the speech. Thank your family and friends and clear your throat on your own time, Tim.
This is off to a snoring start.
Like a lot of people, I guess, I am coming to Tim Kaine completely fresh. Tim, good to meet you. I understand you're from Virginia.
Steve Schmidt on MSNBC says it's unprecedented to call an opponent insane. But what opponent has ever been exactly insane?
He's challenging Americans to face our fears, as our honored ancestors have.
"I hate to say it, but I think a default posture of human beings is fear," said writer Marilynne Robinson two years ago."What it comes down to—and I think this has become prominent in our culture recently—is that fear is an excuse. 'I would like to have done something, but of course I couldn't.' ... Fear has, in this moment, a respectability I've never seen in my life."
We have to shame the fearful in this country. We have to shame the fearful in ourselves.
"Trump says he wants to run the nation like he's running his business? God help us. I'm a New Yorker. And I know a con when I see one." Bloomberg may be doing Trump some real harm here, by speaking to those dolitsh undecideds who can't figure out whether they like the White Sox or the Cubs.
"Whatever our disagreements may be, we must put them aside for the good of our country. And we must unite around the candidate who can defeat a dangerous demagogue."
Bloomberg promises an "unconventional convention speech." After listening to 145 straight convention speeches, we lean forward.
"... the example of our power and the power of our example." Oh, all right. But whatevs. Joe's work here is done.
MSNBC scroll: BIDEN: TRUMP'S INTEREST IN MIDDLE CLASS IS "MALARKY" Some associate producer kid probably had to look up how to spell "malarky."
"How can there be pleasure in saying, 'You're fired'?"
There are some things that only a speech can achieve. And there are some things that only a Joe Biden speech can achieve. How this man has lived a whole life in the Senate and the White House and kept his ability to speak straight to teachers and cops ... it's rare.
How different this is from 2000, when Gore couldn't make up his mind if he wanted to connect with the Clinton that brung him, or disassociate. And Biden calls Michelle Obama, a 50-year-old, a "kid." Reminds me of once hearing Studs Terkel lay that term on "this kid Carlin." When George Carlin was 65 and Studs was 160. It's good to have guys around who can call old people "kid."
Great theme song for Joe.
Speaking of going on ... even Biden's videos go on too long. I need a sack of popcorn.
Joe Biden is about to go on. He told the Morning Joe folks this morning that he told his speechwriters not to write speeches telling whatever audience he was facing how he was going to solve all their problems. He told them to write (and more importantly, research) speeches that demonstrated only that he truly understood their problems.
If Panetta looks like a scared old man ... well, it's kind of the year of scared old men. And it's good to see that there are scared old men on both sides of the aisle.
I can't tell whether Panetta looks like he's had some work done, or like he should have. His speech definitely should have.
Banished to the kitchen tonight by my wife, who cannot stand the sound of my typing. Can you believe this? Did she not know I was a writer when she married me?
"America is not a place; it is a road."
So wrote Landon Y. Jones, in The New York Times travel section a couple of months ago. His words harmonized with my motor as I threaded skinny roads through Michigan to Detroit, blasted down highways from Detroit to Cleveland, wound through crowds in Cleveland and scribbled my way to Pittsburgh just for good measure. And back to Chicago, Monday night.
I knew from the very start of this trip that this was the road I was meant to be on, despite the ominously urgent well-wishes I received from my friends and family. Usually when I head off on a motorcycle ramble—I turned over 22,000 miles on the old Triumph on this trip—people hope I make it safely to my destination. This time, they seemed to hope I wouldn't.
After a lovely and profound visit with a long-lost relative north of Detroit, I headed for Cleveland.
On a ride into the unknown, you wonder. In this case, you wonder where you're going to write in mobbed downtown Cleveland. And then your pal Craig Coffey hooks you up with Joe Kubic, CEO of Cleveland's leading ad agency, The AdCom Group, who gives you an air-conditioned office space in which to quietly contemplate the action outside, every day of the convention.
You wonder who you're going to write for, and your Cleveland speechwriter pal Diane Suchetka introduces you to her ex-Cleveland Plain Dealer colleague so, you can write for them.
You wonder what you're going to write about that's different from what all the other reporters are writing about, and a speechwriting scandal breaks out.
You wonder if you're really going to be able to write a useful piece about the big Trump speech by listening to it in a noisy tavern full of Cleveland Democrats, and your speechwriter pal Eric Schnure introduces you to his former student Whitney Nichols, an RNC ops chief who scores you a guest pass inside the arena.
And still you wonder what you're going to say as you walk numbly out of the arena after watching a legitimate American presidential candidate deliver a 70-minute speech that felt like 30 even to you, and that set everyone around you afire, while you received texts from your sister, like, "What is it even like to be you right now?" Walking to your motorcycle, you talk to your wife on the phone and she tells you she's sick with fear and encourages you to write from the heart.
You ride through the Cleveland midnight, telling yourself you're too tired to write, but ideas flood you so you whisper up to the boathouse where your host Tom Gillespie and his family are sleeping and you pull a beer out of the refrigerator and you take your laptop out onto the pitch-black deck and you write 1,500 words in 90 minutes. They come out of you so fast and so straight that you're sure there's not even a typo in them. You're not sure they'll hold up in the morning, but you have an idea.
In the morning you add some quotes to the piece from the notes it was too dark to read last night, you read it one more time, and you post it. You're not sure it's great but you are sure it's what you think. Fifteen minutes after posting it, you get a text from a discerning reader and friend. "It might be my favorite thing you've ever written." And then it spreads online further than anything you've written in some years, and maybe ever.
And importantly, you feel you've said exactly what you have to say about something important—which, after many months and years of primarily focusing on matters beyond writing, feels almost embarrassingly good. And you savor that feeling all the way to a happy golf outing with your speechwriter pals Shawn Bannon and Michael Tsarcyzk, in Pittsburgh.
And on the long ride home, you know you have so many people to thank for this, and you know you'll never be able to do it.
Okay, good night. Catch y'all tomorrow.
Gingrich is making fun of "Uncle Bill," who tells a story—a fantasy story that doesn't involve Bengazi, email, Libya, etc. He calls her hard-working and smart—and also the most corrupt candidate who's ever run for office. "She would be horrifyingly corrupt as president, and she would be a disaster in foreign policy." Back to MSNBC, where Rachael is probably still quibbling about the implied sexism of Bill Clinton's hoary love story.
If Larry King took a shit and the shit was Wolf Blitzer, Larry King would start eating spicier foods. To FOX!
Maddow hated the love story at the opening of the speech because it was about "a girl," and struck her as anti-feminist. Got it. Probably a good point. Moving to CNN to get the banal take on it.
I'm sitting here with my mouth hanging open. Are you? Or is it the gin talking?
"Good for you. Because earlier today, you nominated the real one." I always know a speech is good when all I'm doing is transcribing it.
Hillary Clinton is "the real one."
"One is real. The other is made up."
This speech seems utterly spontaneous and totally planned. This man is a genius. I've either never seen it before exactly, or he's giving the speech of his life. (Or both.) You tell me.
He really does admire the living hell out of her. Whatever you think of their marriage—and I'm sure I think the same stuff, and I've never liked this guy very much—do you doubt the sincerity of his admiration for his wife?
Okay, he skipped over the horrors, and we don't mind—and he's telling a common dorm-room story that seems incredible and rings true. Those are the best ones.
"She's been around a long time ... Yeah ... she's sure been worth every single year she's put into making people's lives better." Gone, over the left field wall.
"Well, by the time I ran for president nine years later ..." Said in the same Wilfred Brimley homespun tone and irresistible storytelling rhythm as, "Well, by the time that old mule made it up that big hill ..."
This man is killing it in every way it can be killed. I almost dare to hope he's going to address some of the horrors he visited on her and make this speech truly remarkable.
And the audience loudly lends credence to his point about the lasting power of the advocacy group she established.
He's going to make the whole speech a treacly love story. And people are going to eat it up, despite everything. How do I know? Because I'm eating it up, despite everything.
"Let's get back to business. I was trying to get her to marry me." This reminds me of stories I used to listen to as a kid, on the record player.
Swear to God: I just Googled the term "sliming fish" and Hillary Clinton came up first, second, third and fifth.
Not a word wrong in this speech so far. Not a word.
Bill Clinton about to give a big speech looks about as nervous as Muhammad Ali about to defend his heavyweight championship in Madison Square Garden.
It's bullshit because the whole point of a speech is everybody sits down and shuts the fuck up and hears the speaker out without interrupting.
I live-blog anyway on some occasions—State of the Union Addresses, for example—that I don't actually consider speeches, exactly, but rather public rituals more fun as communal word parties than as solemn, solitary communication moments.
No one, including the Vice President or the Speaker of the House, ever listened to a State of the Union Address without getting a beer halfway through, switching over to the ballgame, or taking time out to have a sexual fantasy. So what's the harm in a little live-blogging, too?
With convention speeches, live-blogging is less justified, as far as I'm concerned—especially live-blogging by the boss of the Professional Speechwriters Association. Here, a speechwriter and a candidate worked together to create a coherent communication, and I'm going to listen to one paragraph and ignore the next to comment on the first. Then tune into the third not having listened to the second, and check out for the forth to write again. What kind of an asshole?!
Why will I do it anyway? Because it's fun, and because like most Americans, I have a serious case of AD—oh, there's a shiny thing.
Also, because my readers—communicators and friends alike—seem to enjoy it.
And finally, because you can't tell me it's bullshit, cuz I've already admitted it.
So I think I'll live-blog Bill Clinton's speech tonight, maybe some combination of Obama, Biden and Bloomberg tomorrow night. And of course Chelsea and Hillary Clinton Thursday night.
How about it?
Speechwriter pal Scott Michaud posted this on Facebook before I left for the RNC, and I posted it here ahead of time knowing that after being gone that far and that long, I'd need the comfort. Maybe you can use it too.
When despair grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
"The Peace of Wild Things" —Wendell Berry
CLEVELAND—I had a couple of beers before heading over to the Quicken Loans Arena, where alcohol was only served in the private suites. So when I saw a guy with an “America First” sign, I felt just loose enough to ask, “If America’s first, who will be second?”
“The rest of the world!” the guy shouted happily.
We’ve seen what happens when one nation sets itself against the rest of the world.
My dad fought in Europe, in World War II. He wound up in Berlin, and what he saw there, and the rotting death he smelled there, he didn’t say much about when he returned. He said so little, in fact, that his steel-executive father, on a fact-finding trip to assess what it would take to make German industry work again, was shocked by the total demolition and human degradation he saw, two years after the end of the war.
“Bud,” my grandfather said to my dad when he got back. “You didn’t tell me.”
My dad’s response was, “How could I have?”
When Adolf Hitler had spoken to the German people during the Great Depression 15 years earlier, he had convinced them they had nothing to lose. The currency was worthless, the country was secretly controlled by Jews and had been unfairly treated by all its neighbors, and it was time to take drastic measures. Many Germans must have been skeptical that he could deliver them from such dire straights, but even when it’s a drunk who knocks on your door at midnight and tells you your house is on fire, you’re susceptible, however skeptical, to suggestion.
By 1945, the German people realized they’d had far more to lose, back in the early 1930s, than they’d thought. Despite their troubles, they’d still had everything to lose.
The vision of the United States of America that Donald Trump laid out in a commanding and mesmerizing speech last night at the Republican National Convention—“look at them eyes!” shouted a guy behind me. “He looks like he’s looking right at you, talking to you personally.” “He’s not afraid!”—was of a place with not one decent thing in it, and a people with nothing to lose.
We’re being taken advantage of and screwed by every country in the world, on every front from trade to foreign policy. Our borders are being overrun by violent criminals “roaming free to threaten peaceful citizens.” And while we’re being raped from without, we’re being smothered from within. “America is a nation of believers, dreamers, and strivers that is being led by a group of censors, critics, and cynics.”
Imagine if you sat down on a barstool and struck up a conversation with a stranger who described his life in these terms: His job is boring, his boss is a bastard, his wife is a shrew, his kids are lazy ingrates and his house needs a new roof. You’d start to figure out the problem might not be the world, and it might be the guy. And you’d excuse yourself to pee and climb out the bathroom window.
But Donald Trump is appealing to a nation that has a lot of people like that. People too proud to express self-pity directly. But people who express their self-sorrow through sorrow and rage on behalf of other Americans, and America itself.
The contrast between the American horror story described in the arena and the atmosphere outside the arena was stark. These were a beautiful four days in Cleveland, Ohio. I grew up near here, and boy, if you want a nothing-to-lose vision of an abandoned, crumbling, hopeless place, you should have visited these downtown streets and this polluted water in about 1979. This town was on its ass, and if you delivered a Clevelander from back then to the hip and cheerful place these Republican delegates partied in here this week, he would have thought he died and went to San Diego.
I heard from a number of Clevelander/Trump fans this week how far the city has come back over the years. But then they went into the gleaming new Quicken Loans Arena and cheered angrily as Trump relentlessly described an America that looked like last page of The Lorax.
And of course Trump has been painting that picture for a year, pounding on it long enough and consistently enough that it sounds familiar. And what’s familiar rings true. And rings true—even partly true—becomes acceptable in polite society. A tanned, middle-aged Clevelander in a red cocktail dress told me she’d been for Trump from the very beginning. “Quietly,” she said. “Now, I think everybody is willing to say it.”
All around me, men and women were laughing with giddy astonishment that somebody finally dared to say these things, in front of God and everybody. “He’s not a politician!” a man behind me cried. “No politician would ever say that!”
But what Trump is saying is only emotionally accurate. In America we do have an incredible amount to lose by electing the wrong president—and especially by electing a president so animalistic in his hunger for this power that he would describe a nation with as many resources and as many fine and brilliant human beings we still have here as a filthy latrine of a place, in need of drastic measures of every imaginable kind.
On the day that the police officers were shot in Dallas—the dark culmination of a month of utterly discouraging incidents that do seem to be building in frequency and in magnitude—American symphonies played, the Mayo Clinic cured people of cancer, Silicon Valley engineers worked on projects unthinkable by most of us. Americans taught their children well, Americans nursed their aging parents, Americans gave beautiful eulogies for beautiful Americans. And the next day, the wise and eloquent Dallas chief of police led a pitch-perfect and spiritually healing response to the madness that had occurred in an American city where American life will go on.
This is such unfamiliar territory for me. Over the years I’ve been the asshole telling my fucking golf and sailing buddies that life isn’t a bowl of cherries for everyone, and resources must be directed toward poor and downtrodden people in forgotten neighborhoods and dying farm towns and Appalachian hollers.
To have to remind Republicans not to forget that almost all of us are still infinitely more comfortable, clean, healthy and safe than any of us were 100 years ago. To have to ask fellows with big bellies full of steak and gin—people like multimillionaire Jack Nicklaus, who supports Donald Trump because “he’s turning America upside-down”—just how exactly Barack Obama has cramped their style. To have to wonder if these people ever drive down their own leafy streets, wave at their helpful neighbors and walk into their loving homes and think, “Hey, this isn’t so bad.”
Yes, we witness incredible shit on television, and it seems to get more incredible every day. I have recently been put in mind of 1968, and what it must have felt like when Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were shot, and then riots broke out all over the country as arguments erupted over dinner tables about Vietnam. It must have felt scary. It must have felt out of control. It must have also felt exciting.
And with the backdrop of the shit we’ve witnessed this month, this week in Cleveland felt exciting, too. (In person, even. I was sitting in the cramped, crowded canyon of 4th St. on Wednesday when several dozen police officers yelled to “make a hole!” and parted the people to attend to what seemed like it must have been some kind of serious threat. But it was funny. Nobody panicked, including me. We’re more afraid for our nation than we are for ourselves, even when we are in danger.)
But however fucked up things were in 1968, I’ve never heard it described as a time when America had nothing to lose. And that’s certainly not how it felt outside the Quicken Loans Arena this week in Cleveland. It felt like meeting everybody on the Internet, in person. It was at turns confusing, funny, vulgar and profound. It was dumb and smart and representative of reality and a total distortion. In short, it felt like the world.
Not the end of the world, but rather life: American life in a middle-American city under mostly sunny skies and often with music in the background. Americans opening doors for people, Americans saying excuse me, Americans thanking Americans (and American police) for their help.
The world outside the Quicken Loans Arena was a lot better than the world Donald Trump described inside of it, to the cackling glee of some of the Americans sitting around me, and also the thoughtfulness and discerning applause of others.
I understand the appeal, especially after eight years of a slightly egg-headed leader who values balance and nuance and measured responses, of a guy who promises to clean house. One of the surest applause lines for Trump, no matter what issue he was describing—from trade deficits to immigration to crime—was when he promised to fix the problem right now. Barack Obama, and also Hillary Clinton, do not make such promises. And it does feel, as ISIS blows up a group of innocents seemingly every week, like being told, “Your business is very important to us. Please hold for the next available operator.”
But in a democracy, citizens do have to use their common sense. “Everything he’s saying is just common sense,” said a very happy Trump supporter sitting behind me last night. No, sir, it’s not common sense to say we’re going to destroy ISIS in short order. Or that President Trump could solve any of our other large, complicated and stubborn problems right away.
Here’s some common sense for you: We have a lot left to lose in this country, and ask anybody who lived in Dresden in 1945: We each have a lot left to lose if this country gets under the control of someone desperate and dishonest enough to tell you we don’t.
We each—still—have everything to lose.
In heaven and hell simultaneously, I found this to be a hell of a mid-afternoon refresher before heading back out into the sweltering hate. Thanks to Paul Engleman for the tip.
A late lunch at The Little Bar off E. 6th.
Communication correspondent Jay Coleman writes on Facebook, "Let me make sure I understand: For months, Donald Trump has referred to Ted Cruz as 'Lying Ted.' Last night, GOP delegates were up in arms because Cruz didn't endorse Trump. If we believe Trump and Cruz is a liar, and if Cruz had said how great Trump is, how could we believe Lying Ted?" This campaign is making so many of us feel so literal-minded.
Values-conscious Republicans were roaring with laughter at this t-shirt, newly for sale this morning.
As a public service, the Professional Speechwriters Association hereby and sincerely offers Trump Organization staff writer Meredith McIver a full scholarship to its 2016 Speechwriting School, Sept. 26 in Washington, D.C.
From our promo copy:
Speechwriting is the most lucrative of the communication specialties for a very good reason: It’s hard.
Writing something as personal as a speech for any other human being, let alone a VIP, can seem so difficult and complex that doubt can creep into the mind of even the most experienced professional. How do you start? Where do you get inspiration? How do you capture the speaker’s ideas, the voice, the intonation? Is there an ideal structure? And, oh wait, it has to deliver a message that an audience might actually remember?
There is no school for this. Yes, there is.
There’s Speechwriting School, convened by the Professional Speechwriters Association, hosted at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, and taught by six of the best speechwriters, and speechwriting teachers, in the world.
Yes, Meredith, everyone makes mistakes. But let's get you straightened out. Contact me directly at psaexecdirector at vsotd dot com.
Thanks to Professional Speechwriters Association advisory counselor, teacher and Murray megafriend Eric Schnure—and RNC operations deputy director Whitney Nichols, one of Eric's many grateful speechwriting students, I'll be in the arena for Trump's speech tonight and all the surrounding mayhem. Not positive how I'll cover it, but I fear live-blogging might cause me to miss too much live action. I'm aiming to take it all in and try to write something a little more coherent, either late tonight or first thing tomorrow. Whatever I do, it'll land here first.
I've put out feelers to everyone who might possibly know anything about Meredith McIver, but I don't expect to hear back. She's not really a speechwriter—more like a staff ghostwriter—who has been inside the Trump organization for a long time, and thus probably fairly separate from the bigger world of public speechwriters. (In 25 years of putting on communication conferences, no one from the Trump organization has ever shown up to one that I know of. And I'd remember.) Unless and until I hear different, I'm assuming this went as McIver said it went—her confession rang true to me in the first place—and that McIver is the staff writer she says she is. (Not sure they're supposed to use staff writers to make political speeches, but that's another story for another week.)
I awaken from the first honest sleep of the week to questions about the identity of Meredith McIver, the speechwriter who took the blame for the Melania Trump plagiarism scandal. Her Facebook profile seems hastily thrown together and I cannot find her on LinkedIn. The New York Times reports that she's collaborated with Trump on various writing projects over many years. But I'm putting a call out to all speechwriters, in case I get calls today as head of the PSA (or in case I should make one): Do you know Meredith McIver?
"Secretary of the status quo." That's a good line. (I am so tired.)
I am so tired.
I'll give Pence a chance. But I think Trump must be really regretting not picking Gingrich. They're just a powerful match. Trump is the stand-up comic and Gingrich has the texture of substance.
Trump should have made Gingrich his VP.
I'm not live-blogging tomorrow night because I'll be in the arena. Aren't we all glad?
Is it dishonorable to sign the back of a check that you earned? My host Gillespie: "That's a face a mother could punch."
My friend Dmitri: "Are you watching this? It's like WWF. Hulk Hogan is on stage talking and then Macho Man comes out from backstage!"
My daughter just called me in tears because she misses me and is worried about me on a motorcycle in Cleveland and I told her I have to watch the Cruz speech. I might have blown that one.
Is Lynne Patton giving the best speech of the convention so far? I think she is.
I hate myself.
America deserves better speeches.
Why am I not posting more often? I honestly don't know what to say. If you're bringing in a storefront preacher ... you can't find a better one than that?
Win the Space Race Again!
Dana Bash has already won Anime TV Journalist of the Night, and Kayleigh McEnany takes Anime Spin Doctor of the Night.
Rick Scott has already won Smarmy Smiling Skull of the Night.
Vital Speeches rhetoric editor Neil Hrab sends us this New Yorker article about Donald Trump's ghostwriter for Art of the Deal, who says he "put lipstick on a pig," and believes a Trump presidency could lead to the end of civilization. I don't have time to read it, but this really is becoming the Week of the Ghost, is it not? Golly.
I rode out the storm. Over my shoulder, a band is playing Roger Miller's "King of the Road." Republicans aren't all bad.
Field notes from a 4th Street bar.
I really hope these words don't become haunting, but it does not feel dangerous here at the convention, and not just because of all the barrier fencing and all the cops on foot, on bicycles, motorcycles, and horseback and in helicopters and trucks. It's because the crowd seems mostly good natured, and everyone seems to be in the sorts of slightly nutty good spirits that you'd see at a 1979 New York gay pride parade.
You see a lot of this sort of thing; you don't know exactly what it means, and you don't care.
But people seem relaxed
—including the media folks, like Hugh Hewitt, Willie Geist and Michael Steel. They have the air of people who know they have good jobs.
Hell, even Hunter S. Thompson seems to have his shit relatively under control.
There's not much fear, and the loathing is all for Hillary.
And she's not here.
Back out into it—and then I'll do some live primetime live-blogging tonight.
Good for the speechwriter for coming out with this, good for the Trump organization for not firing her. It all rings true to me. But golly, folks, you gots to act a little faster in this day and age. That day and a half was a dog year.
We're really farting through silk here. Last night it was lavish cocktails on Politico.com, and this morning the yummy, free, daily Atlantic breakfast briefing. At a panel discussion at the latter, Marco Rubio campaign communications director Alex Conant said that political communication has been changed fundamentally and permanently by social media. With no such thing as a news cycle but instead a constant need to keep people titillated whenever they happen to check Facebook, pretty much every campaign has to find a way to be as constantly fascinating as Donald Trump. Every campaign now has to create "a ton of content" that grabs eyeballs the way Trump's content has. Oh, and that infinite grippy, grabby stuff has to be "on brand," unlike Rubio's attention-getting banter with Trump (which Conant says Rubio now regrets having done).
"You don't have to set your hair on fire" every day, Conant said, meaning, you have to set your hair on fire every day.
Michael Cornfield, who is covering the convention from inside Quicken Loans Arena—I'll be in there tomorrow night—observes, "The mood of the audience, dead except to rise to hate Hillary, is astounding to me."
Michael Cornfield's "Rhetorical Recap" of Tuesday night at the RNC appears at vsotd.com. I met Michael for the first time in person yesterday, over breakfast—and the City Club of Cleveland boss Dan Mouthrop over cocktails. So despite what you see on TV, constructive things are happening in Cleveland.
Not a great day of coverage here yesterday. Felt a little dogged by the plagiarism story, which should have been my meat, but as I said, it seemed beside the larger point, whatever it is, of this convention.
Still, my little piece on here also appeared on Cleveland.com (the Plain Dealer's website) as well as at Vital Speeches website.
And I was quoted in a McClatchy newspapers story about plagiarism in speechwriting. "David Murray, executive director of the Professional Speechwriters Association ... called the borrowed passages in Melania Trump’s speech 'incredibly sloppy work' and said speechwriters don’t usually make that kind of mistake. 'Speechwriters usually have more pride of authorship than that,' he said."
I have some meetings today, but I hope to spend lots of time wandering around trying to give you the sense, in photographs and in words, that I was beginning to get yesterday about the mood here. And I'll be back at the boathouse to live blog tonight's primetime speeches. We'll size up Mike Pence together—along with my pal Gillespie, who is at turns a distraction and a help as I attempt to make sense of a hastily planned convention in the middle of a disorienting campaign at a very strange time American history.
One last thing: a New York Times story that gets toward the bottom of yesterday's plagiarism issues.
Tonight I leave you with a good if somewhat belated "Rhetorical Recap" of LAST night; I look forward to reading Michael Cornfield's recap of tonight. Will post it as soon as I get it. See you in the morning.
Wait. It's over?
Okay, I'm coming to you from my pal Tom Gillespie's boathouse just west of Cleveland in Rocky River, Ohio. We have been drinking since 4:00—well actually, since Sunday. But I'm holding it together with a mental vice. Meanwhile, what are YOU thinking and feeling about tonight? I'm all ears.
I think Ben Carson is calling Hillary Clinton a devil worshipper. Low blow! (Gillespie: "a shot below the cranium.")
"Ben Carson is live."
"That's giving him a lot of credit."
I can't decide if this kid is more like Gordon Gekko or Bud Fox.
My Cleveland pal Tom Gillespie, who knows about such things and wants to be sympathetic to this young Trump says, "D-10? No way. D-6? Maybe. D-10's as big as my house."
I'm trying to size up the scene here in Cleveland today before the speeches tonight, but everybody wants the head of the Professional Speechwriters Association to talk about Melania Trump's speech. I suppose I should want to talk about Melania's speech, and I am talking about it all day, most recently to McClatchy newspapers. But everything I say sounds so obvious, at least to me. Obvious, and relatively trivial.
Naturally, professional speechwriters are eager to disassociate themselves with such a practice. I'll let some speechwriters I know speak for themselves.
Speechwriter and American University speechwriting teacher Eric Schnure recently addressed plagiarism directly with his graduate students in his speechwriting course at Johns Hopkins. He told them that during speech research it's okay to look at other politicians' websites for their stances on issues. "But," he advised them, "don't read the speeches because the temptation is so great" to use good lines you hear. And good lines stick in a writer's ear.
"I wrote speeches for 20+ years," says veteran public relations exec Cliff Gold. "There [are] nothing but bad explanations for this. Plagiarism without attribution is breaking the first commandment of speechwriting."
Indeed, the Professional Speechwriters Association has drafted and will soon vet with members a code of ethics, and a strong ban on plagiarism is among the very first tenets.
Andrew Barlow, onetime speechwriter to Texas governor Rick Perry, saw two explanations: "This either a) denigrates our profession [if an actual speechwriter did this] or b) affirms our profession [if the principal took it upon herself to copy & paste text from another speech and her writing team was not allowed to fix it]. I prefer to assume it is the latter."
I think it's closer to the former. But I don't think the speechwriting profession is denigrated. Rather, I think the Trump campaign is running a communication office with insufficient supervision of inexperienced writers. For speechwriters with sensitive ears, the plagiarism wasn't the only problem with Melania Trump's speech.
"I have to admit," says veteran corporate speechwriter Laura Hunter Thomas. "I was more distracted by the Rickroll in her speech. 'He will never, ever, give up. And, most importantly, he will never, ever, let you down.' At a basic level it seems that no one who is familiar with writing a major speech gave this more than a cursory glance before loading it into the prompter."
This plagiarism scandal is a shabby little crime of communication incompetence. And in the context of a campaign so comprehensively barbaric and intellectually flaccid, this just isn't the right issue to fondle all day long. Let's move on.
Getting around the security zone to meet our rhetoric analyst Michael Cornfield for breakfast at the Westin Hotel, and then getting to the Public Square and then getting back to the office that Cleveland ad agency The AdCom Group has generously provided me involved walking many circuitous paths around barricades, and at every corner being ushered across the street by one or more police officers. There aren't a whole lot of people downtown—lots of the local business are having a work-from-home week—and so each one of us might as well be assigned our own police officer, which would be cool.
Getting my bearings this morning and my phone's blowing up with news that Melania Trump appears to have poached some line's from Michelle Obama's convention speech in 2008. Trump claims to have written the speech herself, but the campaign is saying a team of writers helped.
"In writing her beautiful speech, Melania's team of writers took notes on her life's inspirations, and in some instances included fragments that reflected her own thinking. Melania's immigrant experience and love for America shone through in her speech, which made it such a success," according to Jason Miller, the senior communications adviser.
My money is on Trump filching the lines herself. Either that, or the Trump campaign is employing the world's laziest and least imaginative speechwriter. You could forgive a naive politician's spouse for leaning hard on a speech from someone else in her shoes. Any speechwriter I've ever known could not bring him- or herself, even under the tightest deadline pressure, to copy, paste, and customize lines from another speech.
Speechwriters, what's your take? I'd like to have it for a story I'd to file this afternoon.
Now, off to listen to scheduled soapbox speeches at Cleveland's Public Square. More later.