Every four years, during political convention season, someone will invariably ask me, “Did you hear the speech, last night?” Invariably, they are shocked and dismayed when I tell them, “Who cares?”
Every four years, during political convention season, someone will invariably ask me, “Did you hear the speech, last night?”
Before I can answer, they will offer a blow-by-blow of some up-and-coming, firmly established or at-the-zenith political orator who held them spellbound for a half-hour with his or her talk of change or return to values or some other heartfelt message.
These people know me as a fairly intelligent (don’t discuss that with my wife or kids, please), fairly informed citizen. Invariably, they are shocked and dismayed when I tell them, “Who cares?”
This is not an exclamation of apathy or cynicism, but one of cold reality. I appreciate the art of oratory, I really do. I truly wish I had the power to hold millions of people or a packed courtroom spellbound, hanging on my every word and gesture. I do adjunct instructor work, and I’m thrilled when I can keep a class of college sophomores looking at me instead of their smart phones. But when I have to make an important decision, whether it’s whom to vote for or whom to convict or acquit, I’m shelving my appreciation in favor of some real logic.
The bottom line: Speeches are theater. Nothing more, nothing less. They may — or may not — have something to do with what a political candidate or business leader or even a clergyperson actually does. It doesn’t matter.
Even New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie gets it a little. “My polls go up or down based on what comes out of my mouth,” Christie said at the news conference last week, “and you all know that can be variable from time to time.”
I wish other people understood it like that. If you really want to see me riled up by a speech, watch me afterward. For sure, I will see some moron look straight into the camera and say something such as, “You know, I really wasn’t a supporter of him/her, I don’t like his policies or his actions. But, after hearing that speech, he/she’s got my vote.”
Lord, help us.
Several years ago, I saw the Broadway production of Equus starring Daniel “Harry Potter” Radcliffe. It was brilliant. I was swept up in the material, the sets and, especially his performance that had me in turns laughing, saddened and quite disturbed. I can assure you, however, as we later wandered around a crowded Times Square, I had no urge to strip naked and drill the eyes of horses with an ice pick.
So, for all of you inspired or angered by whatever speeches come out of the convention floor: Before you approach me about your transcendental experience, I have a request.
Read the full text of the speech online, check the facts against what was said and take a deep breath.
And, instead, just ask what I thought of Equus.
Bill Wedo is a recovering journalist, an adjunct instructor in public relations at Temple University, and communications manager at Studio Incamminati, a school for contemporary realist art in Center City.