The cadence of a tired, cliché campaign pitch line and a polite applause on cue has become the setup and laugh track of American political events. And it is turning voters off, or, at the least, not bringing them in.
Peggy Noonan, who knows the difference between a good presentation and a poor one, writes in today's Wall Street Journal that "Romney has a tendency to litter his speeches with applause lines . . . if all it is is applause lines, they'll turn people away." She continues, "More important, applause-line speeches are not right for a time of crisis, because they don't allow for the development of a thought..."
President Obama and Mitt Romney could lead us in some worthy campaign event reform. Call it the Campaign Rally Reform Pact of 2012. It would serve them well; they could both use it ASAP. Rather than stick with the formula outlined above, why don't they try to give speeches that build the expectation among voters that if they listen to the candidates, they may actually learn something about our problems and options? And maybe stump speeches will include some history and context to better understand how we got here and what are our realistic solutions going forward.
Most campaign events have become cookie-cutter stage shows, where the crowd mostly serves as tired, rehearsed extras on the set. Is it possible to change this, elevating the level of debate and the desire by undecided voters to participate and attend campaign events?
In the early stages of his campaign in 1992, before he was exposed as a crackpot, people believed that if they listened to Ross Perot, they might learn something. Newt Gingrich had that quality in the 1990s and trace elements of it remain today. Bill Clinton had it, and, I believe, still does when he wants to. Haley Barbour has it, as does Mitch Daniels. Once, during a preparation meeting for a State of the Union speech, George H.W. Bush was going to give, I suggested he request at the start of the speech that all applause be held until the end, as he had some important things to cover, and the quest for applause was more of a distraction than a desirable amplifier to what he had to say. I had insulted the crafters of the speech. The speechwriters were doing the opposite. They knew the number of applause lines from the last speech and were determined to beat it.
Campaigning has become "busy work" for the campaigns. They are doing what they are doing because it has been done that way for 40 years. Times have changed. We need our campaigns to connect with voters and be useful. We could have better government as a result. Mr. President, Gov. Romney, please tell your handlers to throw away the campaign rally how-to manual and break the mold. Have whoever introduces you to the crowds ask them to hold their applause, admonish them yourselves when necessary and insist to your team that you must have something informative to say.