Speaking from the head

- August 30th, 2012

What was so good about VP nominee Paul Ryan’s speech to the Republican Convention last night? Of course I liked it partly because I agree with him a lot. But I thought many other speakers I mostly agree with were flat, pedestrian and formulaic. I described Ryan as “speaking from the head,” that is, sounding as though his written notes were simply a well-organized version of things he says spontaneously, facts he knows matter, jokes he finds funny.

Then I came across this line from Roger Kimball, quoted by MEP Daniel Hannan:

He seems impressed, not by the sound of his own voice, but by the facts and observations he shares with his listeners.

What a fine summary of the key. In really good speeches the orator is having fun, not because he’s enjoying his own cleverness à la Tony Blair or Bill Clinton, but because he’s happy to be able to express such important ideas with the force and clarity they deserve. Ronald Reagan was like that.

Kimball’s phrase also reminded me of an apparently trifling yet unforgettable episode from my graduate student days. In a seminar my dissertation advisor, going over events he must have described 50 times in various courses during his career, made a wry observation about FDR’s oblique rhetorical style for what must have been at least the 40th time… and chuckled as he said it, not because it made him feel witty but because it was still funny after all those years and it made him happy to share it with us.

When people discuss policy that way, regardless of partisan affiliation or setting, it’s the difference between stale air from a spray can and fresh air coming in the window.

We need more of it in public life. Much more.

Categories: Election, Government, Politics, United States

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