You’ve Got to be a Talker Too

In the wake of his numerous gaffes and “um, er, uh… oops!” flubs on televised debates and in campaign appearances, Texas governor Rick Perry launched a new ad motto: “I’m a doer, not a talker,” as if that’s supposed to make us all feel more confident in his presidential abilities. You may have seen one of his TV ads, like this one (which inexplicably aired even in California this weekend):

Newsflash to Rick: no matter what good things you’ve done, you can’t just be a doer if you want to get elected president. You’ve got to be a talker too, and a good one. In this age of soundbites, 24-hour cable news media ubiquity, televised debates almost weekly and must-do “gotcha” media interviews (Meet the Press, etc), a president has to be talking all the time, in front of the world, hopefully eloquently. It’s part of the job.

A teleprompter doesn’t make a president a good speaker. George W. Bush had a teleprompter and he never really came across as eloquent. Obama has a teleprompter and uses it well. Whatever else we might say about Obama, we have to agree: he’s a good speaker. He’s a good talker.

In the post-Dubya world, I think America (and the world) wants a talker in the White House. That is, a talker who is also a doer. We want someone who comes across as intelligent, someone who speaks with ease about a number of issues, someone who has mastered the art of rhetoric and can come up with the right things to say on the fly. We want a talker who is eloquent not because he or she is well-coached or can read a teleprompter well, but because they are smart and know how to think critically in the moment and respond to questions with genuine, nuanced, accurate answers. We want someone who is conversant in the language and ideas of the media elites, even while that insider/intelligentsia rhetoric doesn’t define them. We don’t want someone who will fumble around for answers to basic policy questions.

Rick Perry is not a bad guy. And we all make mistakes. We’ve all been in that “frozen” moment where we can’t recall something obvious. But a serious candidate for president of the United States and leader of the free world cannot make as many “talker” faux-pas as Perry has. A serious president is a doer, yes, but must also be a talker. They must be both. Otherwise we won’t believe anything they have to say.

7 responses to “You’ve Got to be a Talker Too

  1. Sorry, Brett! I disagree that Obama is a good speaker. He can read a teleprompter and read it well, but that doesn’t make him a good speaker. It just means he can read a teleprompter well and give the appropriate inflections in his voice. To me, when he speaks from a teleprompter he offers no sincere conviction just the impression that he’s doing his best to read the words and make them sound good. With the teleprompter taken away, he’s at sea. I’m not an Obama fan, but if I truly felt he was a good speaker, I would admit it. The only thing I can admit to is that he’s a good reader…

    (I’m currently reading “Hipster Christianity”! Thanks for all your insight and wisdom…)

  2. I intended to leave a reply saying pretty much exactly what Rachel said. Obama reads very well, but he is painful to listen to when the teleprompter is gone. And then there is the ridiculously fake accent that he suddenly develops when he’s addressing an African American audience.

    I do agree with Brett though that we need a President who will be an individual of decisive action (with integrity) and capable of communicating intelligently with the American people, as well as the rest of the world.

  3. Obama is an indisputably good speaker. No fair-minded person with any discernment on the matter can argue otherwise (he’s also a phenomenal writer, if you’ve read his non-campaign book “Dreams From My Father”). It’s sad that there there are multiple people here who swallowed the teleprompter meme, and the fact that you anticipated them in your post with teleprompter qualifications. Evidence for this is the fact that Obama was elected; like many people, he benefited from sheer luck (e.g., running against Alan Keyes in 2004, the Edwards affair not coming out till after Clinton had fallen behind, and so on), but if he were not capable of swaying people with beautiful words, he would not have been as excited a candidate as he was to many people.

    Lee: people often adapt different speaking styles when addressing different groups. It’s a well-studied topic called “entrainment”, and it’s particularly evident in educated African American communities, since AAVE is so distinct from the standard “Midwest Received Broadcast” dialect.

    The real problem with Perry, as with many of the Republican candidates this round, is that he is trying to sell ignorance and bravado, and he finds a willing consumer in a large portion of the Republican base. There are a lot of things wrong with Democrats, but one thing in their favor is that you can’t build a base of support among them by pretending to be stupid.

    Of course, the worst problems with Perry are that he allowed an innocent man to be executed (and then interfered with the investigation) and that he’s an unabashed torture supporter. Sadly, those, too, are big selling points to the right, many of them who claim to be Christians.

  4. I think you guys are missing the point. I think Brett is saying we need a President who sounds articulate and knows what their talking about and that communication is a huge part of being President, not just “doing”. So Rick Perry trying to spin his gaff is misguided.

  5. I agree with others that Obama is a good reader, not talker, but if we want to compare him with Rick Perry, sure. (As for his writing, who knows. He had lots of help with his books…as everyone in these positions usually does).

    I agree, though, that you need to be a good talker — or at least an adequate one. Indeed: that is Obama’s current problem. Everyone knows he’s reading, and even when’s talking, people stop listening.

    Part of me longs for the days when you didn’t need such talking skills — at least at a public level (see Calvin Coolidge). Writing was much more important, as well as interpersonal management. But alas, television is here to stay.

  6. If I were to judge Rick Perry by his talk, I might be his biggest supporter. I like what he says, even if he doesn’t say it very well. Unfortunately, however, Perry is a poster child for crony capitalism. It is the whole basis of his political career in Texas. He does the bidding of wealthy contributors, corrupting the laws and policies of the state to make them even wealthier. He does not deserve the nomination and could not survive the scrutiny of a general election.

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