On Hillary, a $200,000 speech and the power of saying nothing at all

WaPo's Joel Achenbach is one of our favorite voices on, well, just about any subject. So, we asked him to look at the week that was and sum it all up for us. This is that piece.  And this one comes straight from Las Vegas where Joel is holed up at the Tropicana covering something or other.

One of the reasons I’m not a real blogger, in addition to the fact that I still can’t figure out basic software tricks like resizing a photo, is that my mind habitually wanders into cultural eddies and backwashes, far from the mainstream conversation. Untrending on Twitter is the list I seem to work from.


Hillary. Clinton.

But I have an even more fatal flaw: On a long list of subjects I prefer silence. Because I have little to say that’s worth the electrons necessary for publication, and, more importantly, I’m conscious that the reader has limited time and energy and need not see those resources wasted on an encounter with some random opinion from a blogger. My silence is a form of kindness. Once again I’m thinking of others!

Think of all the times you click on something on the Internet and read a thought or an alleged factoid that’s vapid or implausible or hateful or juvenile or just gross, and you realize you’ll never get those 3 seconds back. There goes another swipe of the nail file on your lifespan.

Years ago a famous novelist asked my friend Jeff if he was working on another book, and Jeff said no. The novelist said, “Ah. Your pen is at rest.” So you want to know my opinion about the nuclear option and whether Harry Reid should exercise it? Sorry, my pen is at rest.

All of which is a wordy, throat-clearing way of bringing up this matter of Hillary Clinton getting $200,000 for a speech. Think of the pressure to say something worth $200,000! For that kind of money she should speak in one giant palindrome.

Obviously she has speechwriters, probably a stable of them, and the pressure is really on them. She will look over the script and say, “That opening anecdote isn’t worth a pro-rated $13,000. It’s not worth a pack of Marlboros.”

And how many times can you re-tell the story of young Bill Clinton talking about the size of Arkansas watermelons? Won’t the customers complain that they heard that already on YouTube? (Editor's note: We couldn't find this on Youb Tube. And, trust us, we looked.)

People don’t pay for the words, of course. They pay for the presence. If Hillary Clinton shows up at your event, you must be somebody.

Bill Clinton reportedly got $700,000 for a speech in Nigeria. He had them at hello.

The Chinese have discovered evidence of writing in relics from 5,000 years ago. About the same time, writing first appeared in Sumeria. There was language before writing, of course, and oral histories, but we don’t know much about the early languages. I imagine that the invention of written language, and the discovery of the power of symbols to trigger in another person’s mind a story or image or idea or message, was astonishing to those Bronze Age cultures (right? Bronze?).

Today we see, still, the power of written words, and they are ubiquitous on myriad platforms. But I worry that their value is going down. (This is particularly a matter of concern in newsrooms, I realize.) Writers are all heading in the direction of being unpaid interns. New platforms appear in which the payment for a freelance article is zero.

Maybe there’s a finite pool of money for words, and a disproportionate amount is going to Hillary, Bill, and Google?

My pen is at rest, whimpering a little.

Joel Achenbach writes on science and politics for the Post's national desk and on the "Achenblog."
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