"I have a three-inch gash across my buttocks and no explanation."
Hillary Clinton may have gone about it clumsily and even somewhat oafishly, but she was trying to say she understood the point of view of many of the people who support a candidate who she finds reprehensible. Read the whole quote:
You know, just to be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump's supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. They're racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic—you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up. He has given voice to their websites that used to only have 11,000 people—now have 11 million. He tweets and retweets their offensive, hateful, mean-spirited rhetoric. Now some of these folks, they are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America. But the other basket–and I know this because I see friends from all over America here—I see friends from Florida and Georgia and South Carolina and Texas–as well as, you know, New York and California—but that other basket of people are people who feel that the government has let them down, the economy has let them down, nobody cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and their futures, and they're just desperate for change. It doesn't really even matter where it comes from. They don't buy everything he says, but he seems to hold out some hope that their lives will be different. They won't wake up and see their jobs disappear, lose a kid to heroin, feel like they're in a dead end. Those are people we have to understand and empathize with as well.
Go find me a section of a Donald Trump speech where he tries to identify parts of Hillary Clinton's following, and asks his base to understand where they're coming from. (Now Clinton, for her part, could try a little harder, and at least acknowledge that some of Trump's following exists because she's the Studebaker that they've had for 30 years and they just want a new car that has different things wrong with it. Also, "irredeemable" is simply not an American term.)
In her speech, was Clinton a little rough on the racists, sexists, the homophobes, zenophobes and Islamophobes that everybody knows is a part of Trump's following? Did she overestimate their share among Donald Trump's followers? Should she not have put a whole group of people in a rhetorical "basket"? I don't know; I think I would have been tempted to go for the more alliterative "dumpster of deplorables."
In any case, the reason she's getting hammered for her remark about the "basket of deplorables" is the very reason that Vital Speeches of the Day was founded in 1934 by founder Thomas Daly, who believed a large part of the nation's problems then was the purposeful editing of leaders' speeches to distort the message they were trying to send. That's why Daly declared back then that “it is only in the unedited and unexpurgated speech that the view of the speaker is truly communicated to the reader.”
And to think, Twitter wasn't even invented until 1939.
This is why Vital Speeches still prints speeches in full and without commentary today. This is why Vital Speeches still exists today. Not that we expect American citizens to read a soundbite on Facebook and go running to our website to read the speech stem to stern, the way they used to buy Vital Speeches off the newsstand. But future generations of scholars, when they research this bizarre political campaign and every well-argued side of any issue, will be able—and thus will be obligated—to read the whole speech, and see exactly what Hillary Clinton meant by "basket of deplorables," and what was the whole message she was trying to convey. They may conclude she is an arrogant elitist. Once they've read the whole speech, they'll have that right. But not until.
Here's what a speech is, friends—and what a speech will always be: A speech is, everybody sits down and shuts up as long as the speaker talks. A speech is not just a series of standalone declarations (unless it's structured that way, in which case it's a crap speech). No, a speech is a whole argument, or a series of arguments much more elaborate than a single phrase inside a single sentence. And when an audience member is asked what a speech was about, the audience member (or media member) should not say, "Aw, Clinton just called Trump supporters a basket of deplorables."
Because Clinton, in this case, and so many politicians in so many cases, did not "just" do any such thing. Any more than Mitt Romney "just" walked out and boasted that he had "binders full of women."
Alas, soundbite-snatching is human.
Reading Vital Speeches is divine.
This post originally appeared in 2012. As I prepare to moderate what will certainly be a politically charged 2016 World Conference of the Professional Speechwriters Association later this month in D.C., I thought it was worth an encore presentation. —DM
Yesterday my funny, brilliant, musical, conservative speechwriter friend Mike Long said on Facebook that he was deeply upset by a Huffington Post piece that basically claims conservatives are dumber than liberals.
As a liberal, I find the article, and its suggestion that there's a physiological difference between liberals and conservatives, less offensive than absurd.
Here's what I think about liberals and conservatives: I think, yes.
Every sane human being has conservative instincts and liberal ones. We each have an inner looker and an inner leaper, a miser and a spendthrift, a lover and a fighter, a hunter and a gatherer. The strict disciplinarian is overcompensating for her permissive side. We've each had experiences that led us to trust institutions, and we've had experiences that warned us not to. We've been rebels and we've been team players. We've given, and we've kept for ourselves.
It's not that there are two kinds of people in the world; there are two kinds of people in ourselves. Tiresome as it is, the liberal and conservative polarity endures because it is psychologically valid and intellectually useful.
It's an infinite world, and none of us has either the stamina or the time to thoroughly think and feel our way through every issue that comes down the pike. (How many issues do you truly feel ownership of because you've put in the person hours studying them from every angle? One or two or three—and I bet you don't favor universally "liberal" or "conservative" solutions to those issues, but some combination of both.)
But unable to wonk out truly independent stances on healthcarereform-defensespendingabortionstemcellresearchglobalwarmingguncontroletaxreform-MiddleEastpolicy, we eventually pick one of the two groups to associate with most of the time, and when in doubt—and we're usually in doubt—we go with the girl what brung us.
How we wind up choosing "liberal" or "conservative" as our default stance is part tribal. It also has to do with the life story we tell ourselves we are living—usually "conservative" or "liberal" is the coat that looks best. And it can have to do with our relationship with a single, searingly important-to-us issue that's associated with one of the two general points of view.
Doesn't matter how we come to "conservative" or "liberal": The trouble starts when we forget all of the above and start to think our political postures are truly connected with our inner lives. And everyone is so eager to defend their "core principles" that everybody forgets: Our political stances are mostly just fallback positions.
This isn't an argument for moderate politics. Issue by issue, I believe that radical politics is often correct and I think political conviction can be one of the most beautiful things you'll ever see. Meanwhile, when someone proudly declares she's a moderate, it sounds like someone who likes both the Cubs and the White Sox. Well, fine, I guess. But you're not really a baseball fan, and I don't want to talk to you about baseball.
If I'm gonna talk politics, I want to do it with people who force me to think harder than I normally do—and remind me of the difference between my deep ideas and my assumed stances.
(Or, failing that, people who agree with me all the time.)
Postscript: Please note that none of the above ameliorates my stance on Donald Trump, which I articulated the day after I attended his speech at the Republican National Convention in July, and from which I have not budged one millimeter since.
I can't decide whether this is the best thing about being a writer, or the worst. I think it's probably the best.
You often write something that you think is great that people ignore. And you often write something that you think might be borderline schlock that people love. And though you believe you have become a better writer over the years of writing millions of words, your ability to predict the reaction to your stuff is utterly unimproved.
What's more: Spending time reflecting on what "resonates" and what doesn't—well, that's pretty much the most reliable way to make your writing worse.
It's a wonder. It really is. And one of the reasons that writing does not get old, even as the writer does.
Today is Scout's first day of school, and she spent the summer schooling me in youth culture, and in terms like "lit." Meaning, "awesome," or "cool." As in, "My last week of summer break was lit!" As in, "My back-to-school outfit is lit!" And as in, "This new way for me to sound several decades hipper than I am is lit!"
Yes, I realize it's a lot of Doors lately. But that's better than a lot of Carpenters.
Yesterday Donald Trump flew to Mexico to meet with the president, then flew back to the States to deliver a major speech on immigration.
One morning some years ago I flew from Chicago to New York commercial, Don. I gave a speech of my own—to about 300 people at a little outfit called the United Nations.
Flew home the same evening and was picked up at O'Hare by a couple pals who took me to the Happy Village Tavern for a celebratory beer.
We got off to a bad start at the Happy Village when the bartender could not be interrupted from his i-phone to serve us a drink. "Hey, tell 'im to text me a beer!" Tony shouted.
I guess we were sort of charged up (and the bartender was a douche)—and things escalated. Within an hour, we three had been thrown out of the bar with instructions never to return.
I have this fantasy that when I get to heaven, it's going to be like Little League. They're not going to ask whether I was good or bad. They're going to ask how hard I tried. I'll point to the day I woke up in Chicago, gave a speech at the U.N. and then returned to Chicago in time to be banned for life from the Happy Village Tavern.
And Donald Trump is going to be standing there looking crestfallen.
I reread the funeral director/poet Thomas Lynch's great book, The Undertaking. I read most of it at a hotel swimming pool in Phoenix, Ariz. A perfect setting to contemplate death.
I was put in mind of the late aunt of a friend of mine who had the same thing to say at the end of any activity—whether she was coming out of a movie, leaving the dentist's office, finishing the last frame of a bowling game or walking into the parking lot after a funeral or a wedding. "Well," she'd say in a way that assumed everyone with her would agree with the sentiment, "thank God that's over." (It works as a great epitaph, too; could really crack 'em up on a tomb stone.)
I remembered my friend Jason Green's response to my question, posed on Writing Boots six years ago, "Why is it a bigger tragedy when a child dies?" Because life is basically "awesome," he said, and the earlier you die, the more awesomeness you miss out on. I remembered overhearing as a kid, my mother tell my crying older sister on a back porch that if she had it to do all over again, she wouldn't. To Jason, I countered that life is also by turns terribly painful, demanding, fearful, tedious and confusing, and a dead kid gets out of all that stuff. But nobody wants to hear about that—and with a kid of my own, I don't either.
And I marveled for the thousandth time about the equanimity—the deep down calm—with which I receive good news and bad news. Learning that the publisher is paying a big advance or learning that your contract isn't being renewed. Learning that the loan has gone through and learning that you have a year's worth of gruesome dental work ahead. Learning that your wife is pregnant and learning that your father has pancreatic cancer—the voice inside you tells you the same thing in each case, and in largely the same tone of voice. In that moment it says calmly, Something is happening. Pay attention.
I'm similarly taken that I can be in precisely the same mood beside a swimming pool in Phoenix as I am in line at the post office in Chicago in February. And this morning, at my desk with a heap of work in front of me, I'm in the same mood as I was beside a swimming pool in Phoenix.
We want and we wish and we hope and we fear. But when it comes down to it, we are up for anything.
And as I said yesterday, that's good to know.