Monday, July 22, 2024

Want to Win the Election? Get a Great Speechwriter

I wonder whether my hearing is failing. Should I get it tested?

In this seminal presidential election year, I haven’t heard the answers from either side about the issues bearing down on the country.

The over-coverage of the Iowa caucuses was in direct proportion to the candidates’ avoidance of the great matters that the victor will have to deal with in the Oval Office.

If the Republicans are off down the yellow brick road of the Wizard of Donald Trump, the Democrats are well along a road of political ruin, believing they won’t win unless Trump is imprisoned or removed from the ballot. That represents a negative political dynamic.

Neither political caravan has emphasized there are great issues ahead that, if they were to embrace, would lead to victory.

Trump is sure he has the formula, and he may be right. Grievance, his and those of the voters — vast, shapeless grievance — propels the Republicans forward: Unhappy about something? Trump is your man.

Joe Biden’s message is to vote for more of the same. That should be a message enough because the Biden years have been overall good years with an economy that is growing despite inflation and woes abroad.

For Trump, everything is a platform, everything a bullhorn; for Biden, no message is getting out. He is in the chorus when he should be the lead singer.

Questions about Trump’s fitness for office are muted and questions about Biden — mostly his age — are front and center. It is asymmetrical, but it is what it is.

It is up to the Democrats to turn their fortunes around beyond waiting for Trump to fall. Trump is a political phenomenon, and his Republican and Democratic opponents need to accept that.

Meanwhile, huge issues are begging for attention. Here are just five:

—How to prepare for artificial intelligence and its boost to productivity set against its threat to jobs.

—How can we accommodate the effects of climate change? Should we build seawalls in vulnerable cities along the coasts? Can Boston, New York, Miami and San Francisco be physically defended against rising seas?

—The looming matter of Taiwan. Will we defend it, or will we let it fall to China? The stakes are appeasing China or going to war — world war.

—The housing crisis. This is a here-and-now issue that should be at the top of the Democratic agenda. This is a people issue like abortion. People have nowhere to live, and that should be a gift to any politician.

—Immigration writ large, not just as a crisis at the Southern border. It is a world issue in which every war, drought, coup, recession and religious purge worsens as more people from Africa, Asia, Central and South America, and the Middle East seek a better life — but often just life itself. We can seal the border, but the undocumented will still arrive. Migrants are pitiable, as are all refugees, but they are flooding the stable countries of the world so fast that they endanger those countries. It is conquest by migration.

The candidates haven’t delivered great speeches on these or other issues, let alone a series of speeches that would move the electorate and the country. Nothing echoes from the rafters when Biden, Kamala Harris, Nikki Haley or Ron DeSantis speak. It is small-bore stuff, no cannons.

Politics in democracies is carried forward by great speeches that raise new issues, redefine old ones and shiver the timbers of the electorate. Think Washington, Lincoln, both Roosevelts, Churchill, De Gaulle, Kennedy, Reagan and Thatcher — and, in a special category, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. They carried the day with rhetoric and found their place in history with words.

Trump’s speeches are just Trump, part of the phenomenon, part of the disinformation cascade. Biden’s sound —  as I am sure they are — written by committee, like corporate press releases. And, oh, Harris reduces everything to incoherence. Haley and DeSantis have been hobbled by a disinclination to take on Trump frontally.

The big issues are hanging out like ripe fruit, ready to be plucked by any candidate with the nous to do so and craft a speech or several. None have I heard.

This article first appeared on White House Chronicle, and is republished with permission.

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Llewellyn King

Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of "White House Chronicle" on PBS.

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