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Dick Cavett offers advice to the remaining Presidential candidates

March 29th, 2008 · No Comments

From yesterday’s New York Times:

Hillary Clinton is just beginning a live speech as I type. And I just failed in my purpose.

I tried to reach the Clinton campaign to suggest that she could get a big, heartwarming laugh if she came onstage wearing a flak jacket.

I’m not sure the sight gag would have guaranteed her the nomination, but a laugh never hurts and is worth a thousand straight lines. And it’s certainly funnier than the leaden, anti-Obama Xerox line someone saddled her with a while back. If that gag came from a staff member, he or she should have been busted to the rank of gofer. Or gofeuse, I suppose.

If I were running a campaign, I’d urge taking the mountain of money reportedly squandered on pizza, coffee and bagels and spending it more wisely — on a talented young comedy writer. Remember Twain’s “Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand”? All candidates should post this on their shaving mirrors. Or make-up mirrors. (This clumsy gender thing has to stop.)

We keep getting articles and reports of how John McCain is adored, cuddled and all but fondled in the back of his bus by his devotees in the press; who are arranged, it sounds like, at his feet before his big, relaxing chair. His ability to create and maintain this camaraderie is surely a vastly valuable thing. One trait those “ink-stained wretches” of the press especially like about him is his candor and what’s been termed his risk-taking frankness and sense of irony. This affection for him may account for why they fail to do him the favor of pointing out how badly he delivers a speech.

By speech, I don’t mean his off-the-cuff appearances holding a hand mike and working the crowd, or his cool, entertaining guest shots with (the help of) Jon Stewart. Those are fine, and at those times you see the thing in him that makes people say he seems genuine and honest — a mensch saying what he believes, a real and intelligent person, as distinct from the vinyl Mitt Romney, or Boob of the Year contest winner — by a landslide — Congressman Steve King from Iowa, with his terrorists-“dancing in the streets”-if-Obama-is-elected line. In short, all the things conveyed by the now so very popular buzzword: authenticity. The newest must for candidates. (How did I get this far without resorting to “sine qua non”?)

I mean those speeches from behind the lectern, center stage, requiring the three teleprompters right, left and center. They are invisible to the audience and are supposed to create the illusion that you are not reading. And they do, when skillfully used. Ronald Reagan went to England with them when they were new. Armed with them and his acting ability he astonished the Brits with what they took to be his spontaneous speaking at length, sans text.

It’s a pleasure to watch Obama’s mastery of the technique. And Clinton — and I didn’t say “even Clinton” — uses it much better than McCain does. And just about everybody does it better than the capering loon who does soft-shoe in the White House while young Americans are dismembered and splattered in Iraq. Sometimes when he speaks I can forget who he is momentarily and find myself actually pulling for him; probably from misplaced performer empathy. His speechifying has a strong odor of remedial reading about it, combined with an apparent fear that there might be some hard words ahead.

Read the full article here.

Tags: language · politics

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