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Posted at 08:21 PM ET, 06/14/2012

Please, President Obama, end the speech inflation


Four score and seven years ago, this speech started. (Carolyn Kaster - AP)
Thursday, President Obama delivered a 54-minute speech on the economy.

Fifty-four minutes.

To put this in perspective, this is almost three times longer than Pericles’ Funeral Oration, nearly five times longer than the “I Have A Dream” speech, and about 27 times longer than the Gettysburg Address.

Look, “great hour-long political speech on the economy” is as close to an oxymoron as they come. I am contractually obligated to find these things interesting, but President Obama’s effort was a bit much even for me.

It was not that he did not have a point to make. “Listen,” he could have said, “the economy is having some problems. Mitt Romney says he has a plan to fix it. But I do not think that his plan will actually make things any better, and neither do some economists.”

But instead — what was that?

There are few torments like the political speech. Given the option of having to roll a large rock uphill bootlessly or listen to a political speech for 54 minutes, I would take the rock every time. At least I could get some cardio in, and I would not be required to clap.

President Obama has given, in the course of his life, two great speeches. The first was 16 minutes long, at the Democratic National convention in 2004. Every inch of it was poetry and magic. Unicorns danced behind him and the majestic elk of the forest inclined his head in homage. It was a great speech. It catapulted him to the head of the presidential candidate line. The second was his March 2008 speech on race. It was longer, but it was still a great speech.

And he has given what feels like 800 million lengthy speeches that were just okay or fair or sometimes good. What happened?

One of the boons we anticipated in 2008, as people flooded the streets to cheer, was a president with a gift for oratory, a president who knew that there was an art in saying just what you meant and not rambling ineptly through vague thickets of mispronounced words for what felt like eighteen years. I miss candidate Obama. I miss his hope. I miss his inspirational, bipartisan attitude. I miss the speeches that did not take up a full hour to say almost nothing.

The president's job demands that he give speeches. In his first year in office alone, President Obama gave 411 speeches. 411. That’s more than a speech a day. Long speeches, short speeches, Big Ceremonial Primetime Speeches to Congress. But not whatever this was.

Look, if you want to convey actual content in a speech, forget it. Statistics fairly convincingly suggest that no speech has ever sold a policy position. Even Franklin Roosevelt, amiably chatting by the fire, couldn’t pass a scheme to pack the Supreme Court. It’s a lost cause.

What set the Gettysburg Address apart from the multi-hour speech by Edward Everett that preceded it was that Edward Everett did not know when to stop talking, and Abraham Lincoln did. That is why we still remember what Abraham Lincoln said, almost 150 years later, and most of us now do not even know who Everett was. (Though Everett himself wrote to Lincoln the day after, “I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”)

Look, it is not unfair to President Obama to point out that no one on this green earth could give that many speeches and have them all be good. It’s been thoroughouly demonstrated that the more of something you make, the less valuable they are. Speeches are no exception. So instead, he has settled that his speeches will just be long. Romney said nothing in particular either, but at least his speech was shorter. “Talk is cheap,” he said. Yes, and getting cheaper every minute.

By  |  08:21 PM ET, 06/14/2012

Tags:  Obama, oratory

 
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