“Public speaking is the art of diluting a two-minute idea, with a two-hour vocabulary.” – John F. Kennedy
Having been away attending a conference for a few days, I spent most of Monday this week catching up on news and emails. To my surprise, I found my inbox chock full of messages asking what I thought of (former) Alaska Governor Sarah Palin’s farewell speech. I actually had not heard Palin’s speech so I watched the video online. Wow! I don’t even know where to start.
In case you missed it, Sarah Palin, former vice presidential candidate and Alaska governor, decided to quit her job so she could go make oodles of money writing books and getting ready to take on the Democrats in the 2012 election. Since her debut on the national scene, the media has rarely shown Palin in a favorable light. Shortly after she was chosen by John McCain as the 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate, Palin was interviewed by CBS news anchor Katie Couric.
During the now infamous interview, Palin’s inexperience with matters of foreign policy was punctuated by a comment she made regarding the remarkable view of Russia she had from her Alaskan home. Since then, she has been mocked and spoofed mercilessly because of her apparent inability to articulate thoughts in some kind of lucid manner whenever there are reporters around.
Her final oratory as governor, however, has to win the prize for the biggest batch of gibberish ever spewed by a politician during a nationally covered event. To illustrate what I mean, here’s a sample of the speech taken directly from the transcript.
As a side note for all of you Republicans out there who might want to send me hate mail after reading this, remember that this excerpt is from her speech – word for word – and it is not out of context. Though, if you can find some context for it, I’d be grateful.
“And then in the summertime such extreme summertime about a hundred and fifty degrees hotter than just some months ago, than just some months from now, with fireweed blooming along the frost heaves and merciless rivers that are rushing and carving and reminding us that here, Mother Nature wins.”
What? Who? Where? I’m sad to report the entire speech reads this way. Palin’s delivery of this gobbledygook is like listening to an old record with the needle stuck between the grooves. There are sounds and fragmented phrases but nothing makes any sense.
There was a time when I thought the media was being rough on Sarah Palin, partly because she was a newcomer but mostly because she was a Republican. I thought they might be deliberately editing interviews to make her sound incoherent and random. But now I’m beginning to think she really is, how shall I put it, challenged.
Ignoring, for the moment, the fact that this segment is one unbelievably long sentence, the first thing I tried to figure out is whether someone actually wrote it. Instead, perhaps her husband Todd just drugged her somehow and told her to go out there and wing it. Either way Palin’s latest attempt at powerful public speaking was a train wreck – but then, that’s been a Republican theme for the last 8 years.
George W. Bush also had problems with public speaking but, in my opinion, he did better when he did not have to read a teleprompter. Often, however, politicians do not even get to see a speech until just before it is to be delivered because they seldom write the material and rarely have time for memorization.
The ability to deliver the best words in the most convincing way is crucial to political success in our country. During the presidential race, Barack Obama was praised as a gifted and eloquent orator who delivered dramatic speeches which motivated America to buy what he was selling. He was apparently successful. Though, if it were up to me, his speech writers would get at least two-thirds of the credit.
The truth is that politicians are sales people trying to get us to buy their brand of government. They also have to be able to convince world leaders to take America seriously especially in cases where our national security is at stake.
I believe that any hope of success in the next election will require the Republican leadership to look beyond Sarah Palin. The right candidate will be someone experienced, articulate and will be committed to the job for the duration.
Gery L. Deer is an independent journalist and columnist. Read Sarah Palin’s entire farewell speech at www.gerydeer.com.