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Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Pulling his punches

Even more unfortunately for John Kerry, the waddle tends to precede lines that are supposed to land like rhetorical punches. He rarely gets them right, and he masochistically steps all over his applause beats. But even more worrisome is how the punches he's actually throwing are light as a feather and lined in velvet. Take his speech at NYU yesterday, for instance. He unveiled a new strategy of attacking Bush on Iraq, which is exactly what Kerry needs to do. Yet, this is one of the powerhouse lines from the speech:

Let me put it plainly: The President’s policy in Iraq has not strengthened our national security. It has weakened it.

One of the first rules of speechwriting is that the passive voice is murderous. Nothing kills an audiences investment in what a speaker has to say more than passive constructions. Pair that with a stiff speaking style, and it's a recipe for disaster. So, Kerry's jab, where he is simply saying that Bush was weakened national security by invading Iraq, gets contorted into a passive construction where he doesn't attack Bush himself but "the President's policy". Nor does he simply say that "the policy" has weakened security but that it "has not strengthened" it. When he finally gets around to the actual punch, he uses the word "it" twice in the same sentence and is asking the listener to remember his passive construction from the preceding sentence.

If only he would take a page out of Clinton's or Bush's book and just deliver some lines with the dumbness that wins elections. His best line in the entire speech got interrupted by applause. He said:

Iraq was a profound diversion from that war [on terror] and the battle against our greatest enemy, Osama bin Laden and the terrorists.

After the word "war", he got a large ovation. Instead of leaving it at that, he couldn't deviate from the text; so, he doubled back and repeated the sentence awkwardly so that he could finish it.

By that time, the impact of the jab has been reduced to nothing. The good news is that he's gotten better as the campaign has gone along. He proved himself capable of adapting during the primaries, and he is doing so again, to become more combative. But he's still a long shot, and every time he speaks, he seems to make his odds of winning even smaller.


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