Wow, it was as if the political higher powers heard my cry — “Why, oh why, isn’t there one single location where I can find transcripts to speeches on a single topic by all the candidates? Why must I suffer through websites that have no place to pull up speeches?” (Yes, I’m talking to you, Rudy Giuliani and to you, too, Mike Huckabee and Duncan Hunter). But a quick Google search on “transcript 2007 Republican candidates” pulled up the answer to my dreams — the blog for the Family Research Council. In its “Washington Briefing” section, the blog offers transcripts of remarks of each of the Republican presidential candidates (McCain, Thompson, Paul, Giuliani, Romney, Hunter, Huckabee) given at the Voter Values Summit held in October, 2007 in Washington, D.C. Huzzah, I say!
Why am I so stringent about the point that I want to read transcripts of speeches rather than watching them on YouTube or the candidates’ websites? Because I am looking at the writing, not the presentation. As with their Democratic opponents, these men are all experienced public speakers, able to make you believe they are talking to you and you alone. There has been many a public speaker who has been able to finesse a poorly written speech simply by the sheer force of his or her speaking skills. Therefore, I want the words.
In case those of you just joining in to the conversation did not hear my disclaimer from the post on the Democrats’ writing, let me repeat it here:
- I am not — repeat, not — making any candidate endorsement by telling you who I believe the best writer to be. While there have been great Presidents in our history who were also great writers, I do not believe there is any hard and fast correlation between one’s writing ability (or one’s speechwriter’s ability) and one’s ability to lead the country.
- My criteria for judging the “best” writing from a speech was whether it was able to evoke a true feeling of community or vision. Now, speeches in the primaries are obviously different from presidential speeches for State of the Union or other occasions. We are not going to get “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” Primary speeches must set forth the problems of the country and pose solutions, tell the voter why the opposing party or administration is cognitively challenged or morally bereft, and why the candidate poses the best solution.
And now, the envelope please. . .
In my opinion, the award for the Republican candidates for President with the best writing chops (or the best speechwriters) goes to both Sen. John McCain and Mayor Rudy Giuliani. In John McCain’s speech, he ended his speech with a memorable, evocative story from his time in VietNam, about a cellmate of his who had sewn red and white strips of fabric to his blue uniform shirt to fashion a rudimentary American flag, and how he’d been beaten when it was discovered:
As I said, we cleaned him up as well as we could. I went over to lie down to go to sleep, and
as I did, I happened to look over, and in the corner of the cell beneath a dim lightbulb with a piece
of white cloth and a piece of red cloth and his bamboo needle, with his eyes almost shut from the
beating that he had received of course was my friend Mike Christian sewing another American flag.
He wasn’t — (applause) — he obviously wasn’t doing that because it made him feel better, because
he knew how important it was.
Now today, we have another generation of Mike Christians who are over there, fighting for
someone else’s freedom, putting it on the line every single day. And I am most proud — I am most
proud to tell you that they are the best, they are the very best America has ever produced.
This story obviously serves a political purpose by reminding the listener of Senator McCain’s time in captivity. But it also serves as a beautiful metaphor for the American spirit and was an ideal way to end a speech on an inspirational — if somber — note.
The only other candidate in his speech whom I felt referenced the America that I associate with the most stirring political speeches of history was –frankly, much to my surprise– former Mayor Rudy Giuliani. In his remarks, he stated:
I see a country that’s committed to building a more civil society based on a spirit of
mutual respect. I see a country that’s committed to restoring the social contract which
says for every right there’s a duty; for every benefit we have an obligation. And I see a
country that is truly committed to promoting a culture of personal responsibility.
It’s been my experience that unless we work hard to reaffirm basic society standards,
civic decay starts to set in. Individual responsibility erodes. That’s why the next
president must work to restore this very basic idea; it’s a core idea of our government and
our society: For every right, there’s a duty. For every benefit, there’s an obligation that
goes along with it.
Finally, a little lighthearted comparisons:
No. of candidates who opened their speech with a lighthearted family anecdote: 2 (Thompson and Hunter)
No. of candidates who referenced the Founding Fathers in their remarks: 6 (all but Hunter)
No. of former Presidents quoted: 3 (Lincoln, Jefferson, and Reagan)
So, let’s have some lively debate. How do your favorite Republican candidates stack up as writers?
Addendum (1/19/08): I received a lovely email from Tracey deFrancesco of the organization Procon.org. She informed me that their website has a page dedicated to the 2008 Presidential election, including speech transcripts of ALL the candidates, Democrat, Republican, and Third Party. So hooray for Procon! And definitely check them out if you’re looking for information about all the Presidential candidates. I only wish I’d heard of them earlier. Sigh.