Thursday, September 06, 2012

When Clinton edits Clinton

Wow. The Atlantic has a transcript of Bill Clinton's nominating speech that overlays the speech he actually gave atop the prepared remarks. At first, the differences are relatively restrained elaborations and intensifiers. When he gets into the heart of the attack on Republican positions -- themselves an attack on his entire legacy -- the green-shaded ad-libs swamp the prepared text.

When I first eyeballed those later sections, I thought, "My God, he ad-libbed all that detailed policy contrast -- the analysis of their Medicare and Medicaid proposals, the debunking of their welfare attacks." That isn't true, though.  The factual nuggets are almost all in the prepared texts. What's chiefly added is incredulity, outrage, judgments, summations, and personal interjections.

As I noted in my immediate response to the speech, the dominant chord to my ear was listen to me -- repeated as a phrase at least four times, and as a subtext in almost every sentence; essentially, all his additions said listen to me.  Below, I've classified six types of ad-lib that served this mission. In quoted passages, all italics denote Clinton's oral additions. Boldface is my emphasis.

1) I and thou, us and them: Clinton added a lot of pronouns. He added we quite a bit-- asserting a community of perception with the hall and the entire nation (relatedly, he converted "people" to "folks").  And I -- speaking from experience, directly to you. Also they -- adding agency to the Republicans while attacking them. 
We Democrats, we think the country works better with a strong middle class, with real opportunities for poor people folks to work their way into it and with a relentless focus on the future, with business and government actually working together to promote growth and broadly shared prosperity. We think You see, we believe that "we're all in this together" is a far better philosophy than "you're on your own." It is.
It turns out that advancing equal opportunity and economic empowerment is both morally right and good economics, Why? because discrimination, poverty poverty, discrimination and ignorance restrict growth, When you stifle human potential, when you don’t invest in new ideas, it doesn’t just cut off the people who are affected; it hurts us all.
As for the adversarial "they" (vs. "you"):
Or 3) in spite of all the rhetoric, they'll just do what they've been doing for more than thirty plus years now- They’ll go in and cut taxes way more than they cut spending, especially with that big defense increase, and they’ll just explode the debt and weaken the economy. And they’ll destroy the federal government’s ability to help you by letting interest gobble up all your tax. 

2) Parallel structure: this is semi-conscious, on-the-fly sentence balancing, adding repetition, and emphasis, and again, agency:
He — President Obama — President Obama appointed several members of his Cabinet members who even though they supported Hillary in the primaryies. Heck, he even appointed Hillary. Wait a minute. I am — I am very proud of her. I'm so proud of her and grateful to our entire I am proud of the job she and the national security team have done for America. for all they've done I am grateful that they have worked together to make us safer and stronger and to build a world with more partners and fewer enemies. I’m grateful for the relationship of respect and partnership she and the president have enjoyed and the signal that sends to the rest of the world, that democracy does not have a blood — have to be a blood sport, it can be an honorable enterprise that advances the public interest.
3) Repetition: this sometimes serves or builds parallel structure, often via anaphora, the repetition of the opening words of sentences or clauses, as above. Sometimes it's a more naked, concentrated intensifier -- again, look at the passage above: "He — President Obama — President Obama."  A couple more instances:
One of the main reasons America should we ought to re-elect President Obama is that he is still committed to constructive cooperation. Look at his record. Look at his record. Look at his record.
Now what does this mean? What does this mean? Think of it. It That means no one will ever have to drop-out of college for fear they can't repay their debt.
4) Rhetorical questions: these cropped up in Clinton's exposition of Republican positions. They convey incredulity: can you believe this? Would you act like this?
It's supposed to be a debt reduction plan but it begins with $5 trillion in tax cuts over a 10-year period. I mean, consider this. What would you do if you had this problem? Somebody says, oh, we’ve got a big debt problem. We’ve got to reduce the debt. So what’s the first thing you say we’re going to do? Well, to reduce the debt, we’re going to have another $5 trillion in tax cuts heavily weighted to upper-income people. That makes the debt hole bigger before they even start to dig out. So we’ll make the debt hole bigger before we start to get out of it. 

 Now, when you say, what are you going to do about this $5 trillion you just added on? They say they'll oh, we’ll make it up by eliminating loopholes in the tax code. When So then you ask "well, which loopholes and how much?" You know what they say? "See me about that after the election on that.I’m not making it up. That’s their position. See me about that after the election.
5) Command: Clinton added a lot of imperatives.  The whole speech, in fact, hammered one central command: listen to me.  He buttonholed us again and again:
Now Are we where we want to be today? No. Is the president satisfied? No Of course not. But Are we better off than we were when he took office, with an And listen to this. Listen to this. Everybody — (inaudible) — when President Barack Obama took office, the economy was in free fall, It had just shrunk 9 full percent of GDP. We were losing 750,000 jobs a month. Are we doing better than that today? The answer is yes....

But — wait, wait. The difference this time is purely in the circumstances. President Obama started with a much weaker economy than I did. Listen to me, now. No president- no president, not me or not any of my predecessors, no one could have repaired all the damage that he found in just four years. 
6) The ask: paradoxically, after the extended buttonholing, Clinton softened from imperative to urging, even pleading. He'd made his case, and he (rhetorically) left the decision up to us (though after taking us through an  if/then syllogism, if you agreed with him, he segued back to the quasi-imperative 'you must'):
My fellow Americans, all of us in this grand hall and everybody watching at home, when we vote in this election, you have to decidewe’ll be deciding [imperative omitted]what kind of country you we want to live in. If you want a you're on your own, winner take all winner-take- all, you’re-on-your-own society you should support the Republican ticket. But If you want a country of shared opportunities and shared responsibilities- a "we're all in it this together" society, you should vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

If you want every American to vote and you think it's wrong to change voting procedures just to reduce the turnout of younger, poorer, minority and disabled voters, you should support Barack Obama. And If you think the president was right to open the doors of American opportunity to all those young immigrants brought here as children when they were young so they can serve in the military or go to college who want to go to college or serve in the military, you should must vote for Barack Obama. If you want a future of shared prosperity, where the middle class is growing and poverty is declining, where the American Dream is really alive and well again, and where the United States remains the leading maintains its leadership as a force for peace and prosperity in this a highly competitive world, you should have to vote [imperative added] for Barack Obama.
So in the editing, he first takes out one imperative to set up the decision laid out before us; only after taking us through his reasoning, and conditionally positing our asset, does he shift back to "you must, you have to."

This was Bill Clinton's apologia for the philosophy that governed his governance, his bid to restore the policy course that Bush dismantled, and that Romney promises to dismantle further. He laid his legacy on the line. He used every ounce of persuasion in his all-but-bottomless store.

A more perfect speech draft (re Obama's hand-edit of his Sept. 2009 healthcare speech)

1 comment:

  1. An add-on to your "listen to me" observations. Clinton was demanding people listen within his framing, either explicitly or implicitly, that "you be the judge." He was using his authority to get people to listen to the facts and do something with them -- process the information ("arithmetic"!) and arrive at their own understanding.

    Clearly, he was putting his thumb on the scale of how they'd look at the facts he was presenting them and he was giving them short-cuts to processing. But when people say he "treats his listeners as adults" that's what they mean -- that he's implicitly saying "you're smart enough to get this stuff".

    The magic is that he made "arithmetic" fun! He basically said, "I know you're disgusted with the political hype and spin and avalanche of "facts" that's so loud and opaque you just tune it out. So let's pull back the curtain and you and me figure out how the GOP is trying to pull a number of fast-ones they have the "brass" to think they can get away with."

    So he took folks through how the con game is played -- everybody loves dissecting a good con like figuring out "whodunnits". And he primed the audience with the reactions they should have to the steps in the con -- everything from outrage about immoral distortions of plain truth to amused appreciation at the cleverness of the con. He was so clearly having such a good time showing how each GOP con works, that it was well-nigh impossible not to follow each story.

    The old saying in narrative is to "show" not "tell." Clinton certainly did some "telling" -- e.g., his testimonial that Obama's actions saved the economy from collapse, or his claim that recovery is coming if we're patient in sticking to the right policies, which he supported with the authority of his personal experience as president. But most of what was truly captivating about his speech was his total dismantling of the GOP's politics. And that was mostly "show" -- showing how, if you just "listen to me," you too will be able to cut through the BS and figure out for yourself how the Republican candidates are trying to pull the great con.