The leading presidential candidates are well served by their speechwriters. In the three senators’ speeches, among those I’ve read, most of the text is pretty tight. I’ve been surprised by the amount of actual substance they manage to pack in, when they’re not poking at each other. Fresh content abounds—or the talented speechwriters make it seem fresh.
There are many ways to manipulate an audience’s emotions. The best way is to paint sharp word pictures that evoke clear images in the minds of the audience. The worst way is to talk about emotions.
If you want your audience to feel as you feel about the beauty of a mountain meadow, you don’t say, “The mountain meadow is beautiful. I feel very emotional about it.” You say, “In the crisp, clean air, you can almost see the needles of a pine tree on a distant peak. The colors vibrate like neon—velvety green grass, lanky coral poppies with blooms like bobbleheads in the breeze—and fat bees swim in a hazy honeysuckle scent…,” and so forth.
It’s unusual, among the candidates’ speeches I’ve read, to find what I call emotional flatulence. The following, from Senator Clinton’s speech at Hunter College, is a rare example of the bloated rhetoric that is symptomatic of verbal flatulence. I wish there were verbal Tums. We could all send her some.
(Note: This is reproduced as it appeared on the senator’s website, mechanical missteps and all.)
This campaign is not about a campaign, this campaign is not about a personality, this campaign is about hundreds of millions of Americans who are yearning for leadership again. People who across this country do the hard work that makes America work. I’ve spent most of my life helping people who are trying to make it…. The results that I’ve been part of producing for the last 35 years are rooted in my dreams for a better future. We all carry dreams in our hearts and we need to keep dreaming. Dreaming keeps us hopeful, it lifts our spirits, it sets our sights high. Without dreams you can’t aspire to be great but without action, we cannot turn those dreams into reality. I want you to fulfill your dreams and I want America to fulfill ours. It will take hard work and resolve and determination but there isn’t anything we can’t do once we set our minds to it. I intend, as your president, to make sure that America does fulfill all of our dreams.