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Even Obama’s critics acknowledge he is an excellent reader of teleprompters.
We need to revisit that. The most experienced readers of teleprompters are the talking heads, including reporters and correspondents, on TV. Is Obama better than they are?
Why not? They have a range of emotions, humor, different approaches for different types of stories. They have to. If they were some sort of monotone, Johnny One-Note, one-emotion type of teleprompter reader, they would lose their jobs.
Barack is that monotone kind of teleprompter reader.
In her 9/5/09 Wall Street Journal column, Peggy Noonan called Obama “Faux Eloquent Boring.” She said he “always has the same sound, approach, logic, tone, modulation…stance, [lack of] humor and [lack of] humility.” Speaking of his appearance at Ted Kennedy’s funeral, Noonan said Obama was,
...dignified and contained, he was utterly appropriate, and he was cold.
He is cold, like someone who is contained not because he is disciplined and successfully restrains his emotions, but because there is not that much to restrain. This is the dark side of cool.
Well put. He always talks as if he just got back from talking to God on Mount Sinai and we need to listen up to the next installment of the Ten Commandments.
He’s always scolding us or people in other countries. To mute domestic criticism of his foreign apology tours, he has one scold against the foreign country in question for every apology about what a rotten nation the U.S. was before Barack was president. Barack never apologizes for anything Barack ever did. The apologies are always for what we not-up-to-snuff citizens did, or allowed, before we came to our senses and put Barack in charge.
Barack is also always pissed off when he lectures us. Been hanging around Michelle too much. Whatever happened to her anyway?
For those who were adults in the late seventies, he reminds us of Jimmy Carter, a disaster of a president who was always admonishing us for not being good enough. He ran for president after eight years of unpopular Republican administrations and campaigned as an anti-Washington outsider. But once he got into the oval office, the most famous word used to describe Jimmy Carter’s presidential oratory was “malaise.” In the summer of 1979, he told us a sort of malaise had descended on our country. He said the “energy crisis” was the “moral equivalent of war,” then promptly lost that “war” if that’s what it was. He told us, “We must face the fact that the energy shortage is permanent.” That was dead wrong.
Carter was replaced by sunny, optimistic, free-market Reagan who on inauguration day, ended Carter’s “energy crisis” with a stroke of a pen when he signed an executive order ending price controls on fossil fuels. Carter denounced the end of price controls as “immoral and obscene.” By the end of the Reagan administration in 1988, the price of oil had fallen to half what it was in Carter’s last year in office, 1980. There was an oil glut and that is even what the media called it at the time.
Carter promised fiscal responsibility, but the deficit set new records when he was president. He had no ideology or other guiding principles and consequently vacillated and launched multiple, contradictory economic programs, each designed to placate the complaint of the moment.
Carter presided over the worst inflation since World War I, but blamed it on a moral affliction affecting American society. He said we had “lost our capacity to sacrifice for the common good” and that it was a “myth that government can stop inflation.” I am currently researching and writing a book on inflation and deflation. Inflation is, by definition, caused only by government, which has a constitutional monopoly on setting the value of money, and inflation can therefore only be stopped by government. Carter’s successor, Reagan, made ending inflation a top priority and did end it.
Carter was a doomsday prophet who believed the world was headed for disaster. His Global 2000 Report, written in the last year of his administration in 1980 said,
By the year 2000 the world will be more crowded, more polluted, and less stable ecologically and the world’s people will be poorer in many ways than today.
Sound familiar? Those are not the same words Obama uses, but the basic message is the same. He sees crisis as a way to get political support for his agenda, so he constantly tells us we are in a crisis. A leader is mainly supposed to build confidence in him and in ourselves.
On 1/22/10, Obama made his angriest speech yet, doubling down once again on determination, putting a sharper edge on his voice, yelling even louder that, “We’re gonna get this done!” As if he has the power to force us to accept every single one of his programs or else.
As in Copenhagen, where he was supposed to be talking about why the IOC should award the Olympics to Chicago, it was all about him. His Copenhagen sales pitch was all about him. And his 1/22/10 speech after the Brown victory in MA was also all about him. I, I, I, I. From his perspective, everything is all about him, including health care, cap & trade, financial regulation, you name it. To the rest of America, it’s about jobs, health of the citizens, and so on. To Obama, everything is about him, everything is personal. To him, resistance to “his” health care program, which really has never existed in a final version, is a personal attack on him and his opponents have no other motivation but to hurt him.
The only other word he used again and again—14 times—was “fight.” Fight whom? He shouted that he will not stop fighting for jobs. Against whom? Who is trying to prevent jobs? No one.
This is another of Obama’s cheap rhetorical tricks: trashing nonexistent straw men whom he implies are advocating some awful policy—like preventing job creation. No one is doing that in any of his straw man speeches, but listeners who are not too bright come away inspired by his heroic efforts against those imaginary straw men.
This man is truly dangerous.
Someone once asked President Reagan, a former successful Hollywood actor, how an actor could do the job of being president. He laughed and said he could not understand how anyone could do the job if they were NOT an actor.
He had a point. The presidency is a TV show to 99% of our citizens. The president is to star in that show and lead the nation through his performance as much as through his policy decisions and policy implementation.
Barack Obama is no actor. He is more akin to one-dimensional, famous popular culture figures like:
• the guy who used to talk real fast on Federal Express commercials
• former CBS newscaster Dan Rather who has a permanent pompous, somber way of talking
The presidency requires more range than guys like that.
I had a bunch of training as a public speaker at West Point and in the famous Dale Carnegie course on public speaking. We had to do a lot of public speaking at Harvard Business School (in our amphitheater style classrooms) and when I was an Army officer commanding from 30 to 400 men—5,000 once in an Armed Forces Day parade where I was the adjutant. The adjutant runs the whole parade until near the end. You can see video of me making several unpaid, informal speeches at YouTube. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, I was a member of the National Speakers Association and the International Platform Association and made my living in part as a professional speaker.
As an erstwhile professional speaker, who has often been at conventions where I was one of many speakers and I listened to them as well, I know many of the tricks of the speaking trade. Obama’s reputation as a great speaker actually stems mainly from his use of several cheap speaker tricks.
He frequently pauses randomly and for no reason other than mesmerizing the audience. This has the effect of drawing the audience up onto the front edge of their chairs as they instinctively strain to hear what the person is saying. Obama’s fellow Chicagoan, the late Paul Harvey, was the master of the theatrical pause. In Paul Harvey’s hands, the pause was the tool of a mastercraftsman, strategically placed when used, not random, not a cheap trick. I would not be surprised if Obama did not get his pause trick from Harvey.
I heard a female professor on Charlie Rose in the summer of 2009 use a similar trick for the same reason. She deliberately lowered her voice more and more as the program went on until Charlie and the TV audience were straining on the edge of their seats to hear what she was saying. Apparently she had discovered and perfected this trick in college lectures as a professor.
Rose let her get away with it. If I had been him, I would have whispered to her, “If you do not stop whispering your answers to my questions, I will cut off the sound and replace your voice with subtitles when we broadcast the show. Capeche?”
In the military, the way you give a command is to loudly enunciate what is called a preparatory command. Then you let the command of execution explode sharply out of your mouth typically with body language that includes decisively nodding your head forcefully for visual emphasis. You also raise your voice on the last syllable.
For example, to get a group of soldiers to start marching the preparatory command is “Forward,” which is enunciated and somewhat drawn out—“Fooor WARD.” Then, after an Obama-like pause to let everyone get mentally prepared, you give the command of execution, in this case: “March!” The word “march” explodes out of your mouth like a the gunshot out of a starter‘s pistol signaling the start of a 100-meter dash.
In football, quarterbacks often use a head bob and pauses to try to draw the defense into jumping offside. The head bob in that context is actually illegal and draws a penalty flag. There are no referees in Obama speeches.
In addition to his pauses, Obama likes to end almost all paragraphs or sentences with a quick “And that’s FINAL!” nod of his head and a raised-voice-for-emphasis last syllable. That is the military officer or NCO’s command-of-execution trick. A typical Obama cadence might go like this:
Well, as I’ve
SAID (that’s FINAL nod)
the wrong WAR (that’s FINAL nod)
the wrong PLACE (that’s FINAL nod)
and the wrong
TIME. (that’s FINAL nod)
You can easily strip Obama’s speeches of their magic by simply counting the unnecessary pauses and nod-accompanied commands of executions. A college classmate and I once amused ourselves at a Chamber of Commerce dinner by counting the number of times the various speakers said the phrase “and his lovely wife.” My wife said one of her colleagues used to count the number of times their boss used the word “grapple” in his talks.
O’Reilly has a body language specialist on a lot of his shows. Hannity runs a “liberal translation” over various leftist politician statements. Either of them could run an Obama “great speech” with a pause counter in the lower left corner and a nodding command of execution counter in the lower right corner and thereby reveal what Obama’s great rhetorical ability really is. You could also run one of his speeches with the sound turned off and see the pauses and head bobs more easily.
Rush Limbaugh, the greatest radio entertainer of all time (hard to argue with an $800 million contract), is no slouch on understanding the use of a voice. He apparently sensed the same thing I did with Obama, that his voice tricks the audience into thinking he’s saying great things when he’s not. But Limbaugh’s way of nullifying the effect of Obama’s voice was to speed up the tape so Obama sounds like one of the Chipmunks.
I agree with Limbaugh that Obama’s voice tricks need to be nullified, but I think the Chipmunks technique is unfair and makes Obama sound childlike and silly in ways that he is not. Better Limbaugh should electronically remove the pauses and the “that’s FINAL” voice raising to reveal the emptiness of Obama’s rhetoric—and tell the audience he has done that.
Some might argue that changing Obama’s speeches into a total monotone is not fair. Well, he talks in a monotone almost all the time for starters. And I would allow him some voice inflection, but not the excessive, metronomical way he uses voice inflection. (go to http://www.metronomeonline.com/ and click the “on” button)
A cheap speakers’ trick that disgusted me at the National Speakers Association convention in New Orleans in the early 1980s was wrapping oneself in the American flag figuratively speaking to draw approval for one’s speech. One speaker there ended all speeches by asking the audience to stand up and sing God Bless America which had nothing to do with his speech, although he did go to the effort of segueing into it. Since the audience was already on its feet and feeling uplifted by the song, “he” got a standing ovation. Creepy.
Obama’s verbal version of that is his almost invariable use of the entire phrase “United States of America,” in a rising, final-words-of-a-hymn lilt, rather than the more common “America” or “U.S.” or “this country.” It triggers patriotic impulses which are then used to make it seem like the audience loved Obama when it was mainly the reference to their country that they were responding to.
A number of other great orators have had books published that just include collections of their humorous statements including Lincoln, Churchill, Kennedy, and Reagan.
Don’t hold your breath waiting for the book The Wit of Obama. The closest he comes to humor is lame jokes like his saying after his first ride on Air Force One: “Pretty nice. ” He got a big laugh, but not because it was funny but rather it came out of the mouth of THE PRESIDENT. Some judge got national press coverage for using the phrase “This Bud’s for you” in a court opinion where beer was the subject of the case. It wasn’t that funny. What made it so notable was just that a judge made a joke in a court opinion.
JFK, FDR, Lincoln, and Reagan are highly regarded as great orators. They said many memorable things. Even with the best available speech writers and now five years as a U.S. Senator and President, Obama has said nothing memorable.
Here are some memorable quotes from JFK, FDR, Lincoln, and Reagan:
Let us never negotiate out of fear but let us never fear to negotiate.
And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.
All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin. And therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words "Ich bin ein Berliner!"
I am the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris, and I have enjoyed it.
I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered at the White House - with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.
If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.
Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.
In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression—everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way—everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want--which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants--everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear—which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world.
Yesterday, Dec. 7, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.
We, and all others who believe in freedom as deeply as we do, would rather die on our feet than live on our knees.
The test of our progress is not whether we add to the abundance of those who have much. It is whether we provide enough to those who have little.
Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, can not long retain it.
Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.
A house divided against itself cannot stand.
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan - to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.
Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
..that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.
Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!
a shining city on a hill
You and I have a rendezvous with destiny. We will preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we will sentence them to take the first step into a thousand years of darkness. If we fail, at least let our children and our children's children say of us we justified our brief moment here. We did all that could be done.
I hope you're all Republicans. (said to the surgeons around the operating table immediately after his being shot by a would-be assassin)
I want you to know that also I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience. (Said in TV debate with Walter Mondale during the 1984 campaign)
We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them — this morning, as they prepared for their journey, and waved good-bye, and "slipped the surly bonds of earth" to "touch the face of God." (comments after the Challenger disaster)
One of the rules of show business is to always leave the audience wanting more. Celebrities, including politicians, are also usually concerned about getting overexposed. Many top celebrities like Frank Sinatra and Bruce Springsteen rarely made or make public appearances.
Not Obama. He and his staff seem to have decided that he is a one-trick pony—that is, a great teleprompter reader. But that he is such a great teleprompter reader, that he, unlike mere mortals, cannot be overexposed no matter how much the public sees of him. In that same vein, they seem to have concluded that the solution to any problem the White House has is to simply have Barack read yet another speech on TV. The guy has made a zillion speeches yet seems intent on continuing to make as many more as he can.
I think he is very near overexposed already and his 9/9/09 speech to a joint session of Congress about his health care plans seems doomed to failure because he has nothing new or persuasive to say. Apparently, the speech will be simply Obama style yet they expect it to somehow snatch victory on the health care legislation from the jaws of defeat. Doing the same failed thing over and over yet expecting a different result is one of the manifestations of insanity, not leadership.
In an early article about Obama I said he was doomed to failure because herepeatedly made the very stupid mistake of promising more than he can deliver. When you think about it, there is only one way to do a good job yet have people unhappy with the job you did. That is to promise more than you deliver. One Obama example: When urging the nation to approve his “stimulus” bill, he said unemployment would go above 8% if we did not immediately pass it. Congress passed it, notoriously without reading it, and unemployment promptly went above 8% anyway—a fact which is contrasted with his promise dozens of times daily now on TV.
By choosing a joint session of Congress, which is the sort of big deal used y President Roosevelt to declare war on Japan the day after Pearl Harbor, Obama promises a huge deal. I predict he will not deliver anything other than more of the same things he has been saying for months. If so, he has turned himself into the boy who cried “wolf!” That is an extremely shoot-yourself-in-the-foot thing for a president of the “United States of America” to do.
Ultimately, to be considered a truly great orator, which is almost a requirement of a great president, you need to say memorable things that inspire people to respond to the “better angels of our nature.” Obama has never done that, in spite of having many opportunities to do so. After his much-ballyhooed speech on race, his supporters in the press said it would henceforth be taught in schools alongside the Gettysburg Address and the Declaration of Independence. No. it won’t. Hardly anyone remembers a word of it even though it happened in 2008. The only phrase I remember is his calling for a “dialog on race,” by which I said he meant blacks bitching and whites taking notes and promising to change everyhing blacks want changed to the way blacks want it.
Obama says nothing, but he says it with grand faux eloquence. A comment I made about Rich Dad Poor Dad author Robert Kiyosaki also applies to Obama:
In this, Kiyosaki also reminds me of Robert Blake, the movie and TV actor best known for starring in the late-70’s TV series Baretta. Blake’s TV-talk-show appearances were invariably interrupted by audience applause. Why? Like Kiyosaki, he was given to spouting platitudes so grandly and self-confidently that the audience assumed he must have had said something great. He didn’t.
I am not sure that the American people will ever figure out that Obama says little and achieves his hypnotic effect with cheap speaker tricks, but I think they could if someone would explain and point out to them the tricks being used and the fundamental clichéd, all-slogans-all-the-time emptiness of his speeches.
Here is an excellent email I got from David Cooperman adding similar observations he has made.
I'm a big fan of your work, and enjoy reading the articles and books. I'm a real estate guy and stand-up comedian, so I followed the various cheap tricks with interest. The part about draping yourself in the flag definitely rang a few bells for me. When 9/11 occurred there was never ending sequences from comics "let's hear it folks for those firefighters, and police - the real heroes"...There are all sorts of gratuitous things comics say so they'll be liked - "you ladies are really so much smarter than us". I worked with a guy who would end his show with the song "Walking in Memphis". He had a good voice, but I sat there thinking "he's singing the entire song straight?" No jokes thrown in, no parody, just a song? Bizarre. He wasn't a strong enough comic to get standing O's - but he'd always get applause. To me, I think he was just filling time to do his required minutes - and when you're singing, you're not getting laughs, but you're not pausing either so the audience can't really tell if other audience members are NOT enjoying themselves. So, it's a bomb-avoidance technique. I know, I know, I'm digressing. But - politicians and comedians share the same disease - generally, they need to be liked (there are exceptions in the comedy arena, but generally the rule stands).
In terms of your critique, the thing I think you're leaving out is that no, Obama isn't a great orator - but he has a good voice. So, when people gush about his speaking abilities, I think they're just mistaking good pipes for good oration. Kind of like the Richard Burton-syndrome - or James Earl Jones (in my opinion) - great voices, not great actors. I believe Burton actually fessed up to this. Compared to Bush though, Obama is Paul Harvey or Reagan...since all the Bush's were just horrendous public speakers. McCain also wasn't particularly gripping as a public speaker (in fact, I think he's terrible, although I like him on the whole more than you do), and I think Palin was/is pretty rough on the ears. So, Obama doesn't have to compare necessarily to the greats. It's like winning an Oscar - the Best Picture doesn't have to go up against Citizen Kane - it just has to beat the field that's there. As a speaker, Obama beats the field. Plus, like a big name comic who has to perform new material - Obama has writers. I don't think great speeches have been made (the 'unclench your fist' line was memorable, albeit wrong). So, I don't give his writers the poor grades you do. He said some funny things at the White House press dinner.
He'll be remembered - no matter what - because he's a black guy. Leftist teachers will bludgeon that into the brains of every kid of future generations, no matter what. He may be the next Jimmy Carter but he's the black Jimmy Carter, and that's that. In a way, he's the anti-Jackie Robinson, Joe Louis, etc. They had to be great to break through. Although in sports - it's easier to be objective about greatness. Presidents are a little different. When presidents speak - you don't get to see the stat lines on the bottom of the screen. There aren't Bill James-types for politics.
Thanks for your time,