CONSIDERED AS ORATORY...
...I was actually fairly impressed with W's speech last night. Judging from the lack of focus that the major networks are giving to the speech on this, the morning after, I have to conclude that my impression is correct. I've been sitting here flipping between Katie, Matt, Al and Anne, Charlie and Diane and the Ted Turner team, through three different news updates, and I haven't seen one mention of the speech yet. That absolutely qualifies as high praise, I think. You have to contrast this kind of sulking with the ad nauseum analsis of Kerry's lip-licking speech last month. (Just now, for example, I am watching Katie do a spot on "fall planting." Diane and Charlie are making a pie with Farrah Faucett! How I love it!)
Bush is not a man to be underestimated. He clearly practiced for this speech and delivered one far beyond anything I have ever heard from him.
The main drawbacks in the speech came from its length, and then the way it fell into the Clintonian style of dialogue with the audience. I think both of these were principally the fault of the assembled GOP faithful, however. Bush was interrupted 102 times in his speech by the assenting hoards, eager to show the Donkey party, "Yes, Yes, Yes, we do! We've got spirit, how 'bout you!" This clearly added probably ten to fifteen minutes to Bush's comments. I think this trend for the audience have to keep responding to a political speech at the end of every sentence is going to have to be dealt with in an unambiguous way to free audiences from the need to demonstrate their support every thirty seconds. It is really destroying political oratory. Somebody is going to have to say from the podium, "Please try and hold your applause until my comments are done." Or "Hey, this is MY speech." Or something gentle like that.
Still, I thought that Bush went on a bit long in thanking the military. It made for one of the most moving moments in the speech, but it was also handled at two points - once too many.
The two best things about the speech were the measured tone in which he spoke, and then, some of the great lines he put together. He countered his usual blubbering by taking his time, and clearly emphasing every word. This projects as a voice of authority, and principled convictions. I counter it to Kerry's kind of mad dash through his points, moving from sentence to sentence without any seeming hierarchy to his ideas. Bush's speech was longer, but Kerry's was much more tedious, because it didn't have any kind of structure.
In terms of structure, Bush moved from the particular to the philosophical, giving the closing moments a compelling touch of idealism. It made the speech an effective blend of policy and thematics - or both style and substance - always the best kind of oratory. And his theme was clear and strong: If you vote for me, you vote for someone who believes that the promotion of American style freedom - both at home and abroad - is the only way to secure peace and prosperity.
By contrast, I'm not sure I could find a clear, coherent theme underlying Kerry's speech. It was something like, "If you vote for me, you get well, not George Bush."
Bush also smartly avoided the hand-waving and gesturing that Kerry utilized to try and establish himself as "a warm and regular guy like us." Frankly, I think most Americans don't want someone like themselves in the Oval Office. It's like my friend Karen used to say about God, "I'd rather not have a Deity I could figure out, actually." Bush stood straight behind the podium, neither gripping it or leaning on it, keeping all the focus on his face and voice. And it's not a bad looking face, I think.
Whoever wrote the speech deserves mucho Kudos for some of the idea formulations. A couple of phrases really have the potential to become quotable: "I believe in the transformational power of liberty." And my favorite, referring to education policy for the poor as being a challenge to "the soft bigotry of low expectations." Fabulous!
I also thought it was a sign of courage how he addressed the hard issues of his decisions about Iraq head on, bringing together all the history and reasoning surrounding it. It was good to hear the real reason for the War stated so clearly and compellingly: We are gambling that a democratic state in the midst of the Arab world, will change the course of histroy for the good. America really can make no other gamble and be herself.
I thought he could have left out one or two of his comparisions to himself and Kerry, it reached the level of a sneer a couple of times, and this seems to me to be beneath the Chrief Executive. On the other hand, I do appreciate his frustrtaion. Somebody has to talk about Kerry's voting record. Kerry himself will surely not do it.
Overall, it was a very good piece of oratory. I predict a measurable post-convention bounce.