Theresa Heinz Kerry: We can and we will.
31 July 2004, 10:52 AM
Why do so many speeches at this level read like second drafts? I want to mark up the transcripts and say “Here, these sentences can be made parallel, and turn this one around to put the applause line at the end.” I liked Ms. Heinz’ speech, and I admire Ms. Heinz, but another draft or two would have made it much better.
To start with, I’ll make a few general statements about the content and the tone. The most obvious thing is that it wasn’t a ‘nice’ speech, a Laura Bush or a Barbara Bush speech, or a Roz Carter speech, or even a Hilary Clinton speech. Eric Alterman called it “bizarre from a political perspective.” I think I agree with him. It seemed to have a lot to do with what she wanted to say, and not much to do with who she wanted to say it to.
Her formative political experience was a loss, the fight against apartheid in the fifties. I don’t know how that affects her, over time. Probably the second most formative was the death of her husband, and the subsequent disappearance of his wing of the Republican Party. I think she may well be pretty sour on politics, not in the sense of giving up, but in the sense of doing it, day by day, with a sour quip and a sour face. Just my thought. Also, remember that until the last few months she was never really Mrs. John Kerry, but rather the head of the Heinz Foundation. She never knew the John Kerry that we’ve all been talking about so much, the war hero or the anti-war leader. She knew, and seems to have fallen in love with, the Senator, who has not been much on display. And, in addition, the party that everybody is vilifying is her Party: she finally changed her registration this year, but it’s hard to believe that she thinks of herself as a Democrat at all. If she doesn’t think of herself as a Republican, it’s the last ten years of Republicans have betrayed her, and that’s another reason for the sour face.
OK, the speech itself is a bit of a mess. It’s got the obligatory where-I’m-from bit, which in her case is pretty complicated, but she gives it short shrift. Two paragraphs. No descriptions of the land she grew up in. Nothing about actually deciding to come to (or stay in) America. The stories she tells are elliptical, told as if we know them already, and you know, we don’t.
Then there’s the defensive ‘don’t call me a bitch’ bit. Now, I totally agree with her, here. Let me say it again, and in italics: I totally agree with her. Women with opinions are no more opinionated than men with opinions, and the language our culture uses to describe them is awful, demeaning, and vicious. It’s not just discriminatory, it’s misogynistic, and someone should call us on it. But at the convention? It’s more profoundly negative than attacking the opposition; it’s the wrong place to put the attention. She does try to turn it into a general pro-equality “hear women’s voices” bit, but it doesn’t quite work.
Now, if she had done a segue directly from Africa to the Peace Corps, it would have worked very nicely, and the Peace Corps slides nicely into the meat of the speech. It’s Peace Corps America that Ms. Heinz chose to become a citizen of, clearly, and it’s Peace Corps America that we are trying to be. Not just the compassion, although that is part of it, but the practical optimism, building houses and clinics and basketball courts.
Americans believed they could know all there is to know, build all there is to build, break down any barrier, tear down any wall. We sent men to the moon, and when that was not far enough, we sent Galileo to Jupiter, we sent Cassini to Saturn, and Hubble to touch the very edges of the universe at the very dawn of time. Americans showed the world what can happen when people believe in amazing possibilities.
Now we head into the refrain: We can, and we will...
- He believes we can, and we will, invent the technologies, new materials, and conservation methods of the future.
- We can, and we will, create good, competitive, and sustainable jobs while still protecting the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the health of our children, because good environmental policy is good economics.
- John believes that we can, and we will, give every family and every child access to affordable health care, a good education, and the tools to become self-reliant.
- John Kerry believes we must, and we should, recognize the immense value of the caregivers in our country
- With John Kerry as president, we can, and we will, protect our nation’s security without sacrificing our civil liberties.
- In short, John believes we can, and we must, lead in the world—as America, unique among nations, always should—by showing the face, not of our fears, but of our hopes.
- We can and we should join together to make the most of this great gift we have been given, this gift of freedom, this gift of America.
Now, y’all notice that she’s messed this up. There are four can/will, a must/should, a can/must, and a can/should. Why? Yes, there are slight shades of difference in meaning, but if you changed them all to can/will, they would work. Or, even better, start from the beginning with we must, we can, and we will. Anaphora doesn’t work if you don’t stick to it. And, of course, there’s the other idea—could we flip the sentences, and put the repeated phrase at the end, so we could get a chant going? Maybe, maybe not. But it’s a good phrase, we can and we will, and it’s a shame to waste it. Particularly at the end of the speech:
Together we will lift everyone up. We have to. It’s possible. And you know what? It’s the American thing to do. Goodnight and God bless.
Or, in the third draft:
The American thing to do is to lift everyone up, everyone, together. We must. We can. And we will! Goodnight!
Just a thought.