What should somebody interested in politics and rhetoric say about the latest screwup by Senator Kerry? I should say botch. Who uses the word botch? Who among us cannot say that we do not leave jokes unbotched?
I have not been reading about this business obsessively, because I have some shreds of sanity left. But I do have a question that I haven’t found the answer for in the obvious places, at least without actually looking for it: was the prepared text of the Senator’s speech released to local newspapers before the speech itself? Later, of course, his people released the text, and the joke, or the “joke”, was much more clearly about Our Only President (and, perhaps, a certain former Senator from his own Commonwealth). If that text had been released (and embargoed) before the speech itself, which used to be common practice, then the reports I’ve heard and read have drastically misrepresented the situation.
I think there’s something of actual interest there, though. The Junior Senator has some small history of departing from the prepared text to his detriment. Howard Dean also messed up a bit that worked when he said it correctly. Do these people have no instinct for extemporaneous speaking? Actually, of course, they have extremely good instincts for extemporaneous speaking, and I’m sure that 98% of the time they depart from their prepared texts in this way, they don’t get into any trouble at all. It’s just that there are cameras on them more than 98% of the time. And also—there are people who don’t just have extremely good instincts for extemporaneous speaking, but extraordinary, amazing, wonderful instincts for extemporaneous speaking, and when you are in the big leagues, you play with the big boys. Neifi Perez has very, very good instincts for hitting—not just compared to YHB but compared to a very good athlete. It’s just that compared to an actual major-league hitter, he stinks. It’s important to remember that even if John Kerry stinks at extemporaneous speaking, he stinks the way Neifi Perez stinks at hitting, that is, by being much, much better at it than anybody you know or are likely to know.
Jed commented in this Tohu Bohu last week that when Deval Patrick deviated from the prepared text of his Just Words speech, it was a noticeable improvement. I caught Our Previous President doing it a couple of years ago. I think that if you can do it, this is an amazing asset to have. It calls for the ability to read your audience, not just to read their enthusiasms but to read their rhythms, the rhythms of their lungs and hearts, their laughter, their anger, and their triumph. To change around the order of clauses, on the fly, so they suit that rhythm, without making distracting grammatical errors or, worse, leaving out a key word or phrase and changing the meaning of the sentence. It’s obviously impossible. Like hitting a John Smoltz fastball. Even for somebody very good, I mean much, much better than you are, than anybody you ever met is, even for somebody as good at hitting as Neifi Perez, it is obviously impossible to get the bat around in time, much less see the ball, aim the bat, and hit it well. And yet...
chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek,