In 1967, I was a winner in the Spokane area American Legion Oratorical Contest. I still remember the thesis statement of my seven-minute speech, which was based on a quote by Thomas Jefferson: “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.”
I spent weeks writing the speech, and untold hours repeating it in front of mirrors, before I nervously presented it to my high school debate class. The audience picked it apart. I rewrote parts of it, memorized the changes, and presented it again. By the time the contest rolled around, I could say it in my sleep. My biggest challenge was making the speech sound off-the-cuff, as though I was making impromptu remarks. When I stepped off the stage, I felt an enormous sense of triumph. Win or lose, I’d tackled a daunting task and pulled it off. Later, I would become a debate coach and talk other young people into torturing themselves in a similar fashion.
I know a thing or two about speech making. So after Sarah Palin’s triumphant performance at the Republican National Convention, it took me a few days to realize why some people were so impressed: they thought she wrote the speech!
Trust me, she didn’t.
Didn’t you hear the echoes? That speech was constructed by the same speech writers who have put the words into George Bush’s mouth for the past eight years and who are now the handlers for John McCain. Those clever little quips—the lipstick, the “actual responsibility”? Made by committee. (Barack Obama, by contrast, writes his own speeches, long hand, on yellow legal pads.)
As for delivery, I could have done it in a few days, too, if they’d had Teleprompters back then (or allowed them to be used in oratorical contests).
I’m not saying Sarah Palin didn’t do a bang-up job of presenting the speech. She’s a good little actress and delivered her lines well. And nature—in the form of Hurricane Gustav—gave her an extra day to practice.
But that doesn’t mean she’s qualified to be President—not even close.
Hitler made great speeches, too.
When we allow ourselves to be moved by political rhetoric, it’s important to consider the source.