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Speech, Speech

I wrote this right up front and center in my last post, but it seems to have been ignored by every single one of my critics. Here it goes again. What that post about was whether or not I liked John Kerry's speech. If I were advising John Kerry on what to say on the campaign trail I would tell him: "See that Matt Yglesias character over there? Ignore his opinions. He'll vote for you no matter what you say. Besides which, he lives in the District of Columbia. So ignore him." So John Kerry does well to ignore what I think. Nevertheless, even though I'm not a persuadable swing voter, I'm still entitled to an opinion. And to me, it was a very bad speech. Not very bad in the sense that it will hurt him electorally but bad in the sense that I didn't like it. Now does it matter that I didn't like it? No. I don't live in Ohio and I'm not voting for Bush no matter what Kerry says. I have a sense that the weird posturing as a substitute for an actual national security agenda will go over very well, since the GOP's been doing it successfully for years.

July 30, 2004 | Permalink


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» Kerry Speech Reactions from the Greater Nomadic Council
Daniel Drezner thought the foreign policy critiques were solid and sane, although, as a free-trader, he has some problems with Kerry's rhetoric on out-sourcing. Pejman Yousefzadeh wrote a long, thoughtful analysis of the speech and why he didn't like i... [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 30, 2004 11:21:04 AM

» Kerry Speech Reactions from the Greater Nomadic Council
Daniel Drezner thought the foreign policy critiques were solid and sane, although, as a free-trader, he has some problems with Kerry's rhetoric on out-sourcing. Pejman Yousefzadeh wrote a long, thoughtful analysis of the speech and why he didn't like i... [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 30, 2004 11:21:37 AM

» Outsourcing from Eccentricity
Legal Fiction tirggered some interesting thoughts last night: [Update: Some quick comments on the reaction so far. Matt Yglesias was unimpressed, but he did explain later on that the speech might have been good politically speaking, even though ... [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 31, 2004 3:38:40 PM

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Tracked on Oct 6, 2005 9:20:16 PM



1. Look, as a long time whiner myself, I can tell a fine whine a mile away. You owe yourself and your public better.

2. Can an opinion be wrong? uh, yeah, it can be. And, saying the speech was 'crap' purports to say something objective, not subjective. And that after all was the first line of your post.

Posted by: John Casey | Jul 30, 2004 9:33:47 AM

But Matt... are you really trying to
claim nuance in the statement:
"I thought it was crap"?

I see already that you are a hit on the right
wing blogs.

I would welcome a thoughtful critique, but you
didn't offer one...

You obviously did not like the way your post was
interpreted, but it's hard to blame your readers
for that. You set the tone from the beginning
and it was not a thoughtful one.

It's not that I want you to toe the party line,
but just make it thoughtful.

Posted by: Greg | Jul 30, 2004 9:39:55 AM

More crap Matt. Now you're just trying to defend a rather paltry line of argument. You don't have to like his speech, but by calling crap what most are calling decent, good or great suggests that you either expect the address to be only about your concerns, or you think a lot of smart people (even a few that might be smarter than you) are idiots. Nope.

Posted by: ccobb | Jul 30, 2004 9:56:21 AM

You must get disappointed every time you answer the door and Ed McMahon isn't there presenting you a check.

Posted by: Rob | Jul 30, 2004 9:57:53 AM

You may wish to look at how juan cole fleshed out the suggestions. I didn't think much of Matt's post, but I would attribute it to post convention crankiness.

Posted by: liberal japonicus | Jul 30, 2004 9:59:00 AM

In Seattle the Feds announced they've just used the Patriot Act to make a major seizure of....marijuana money! Yes, while 90% of the containers passing thru Seattle are not inspected, the Feds just spent the past year figuring out how they could seize a major chunk of cash from pot smugglers.

If Kerry and his crew simply do a competent and reasonably honest job as public servants, we'll be a lot safer. People aren't idiots- we know that if you're not checking containers, it doesn't matter what your lofty noble ideals might be. A lot of this just isn't rocket science.

Posted by: serial catowner | Jul 30, 2004 10:00:37 AM

Well, it's nice to know Matt reads the comments section, anyway. :)

I'm not sure people were questioning that Matt didn't like the speech, most were just trying to sort out why. If the speech was "crap" - I think it wasn't, but still - I think more is needed as to why. If the notion is that the way to best Bush's vague platitudes is to offer firm specifics about policy... I don't see it. There are only a few people (and most of them write for political journals... ooh, that means they're men doesn't it), for whom "he's carefully articulated a chaged approach to Turkey, so now I must vote for him," will do the trick.

Bill Clinton was hopelessly (or Hope-fully, depending on your take) vague. Ronald Reagan made fuzzy platitudes into an entire career. Hang around long enough, and it's clear that Americans are not moved by specifics. We're moved by a dream, by an idea. It's Bush's best and worst quality - distilling simplistic bromides into something that resembles governance. It may be that Kerry's was not a great speech - he's not a soaring salesmen of dreams, by any stratch. But his "vision thing" was hopeful and optimistic. That goes a long way towards getting moderates on board, and it confirms, for many faithful Dems, an inherent belief in what their party stands for. I agree, the speech in many ways was not aimed at Matt or me, or my Mom. But Momand I still thought it was a good speech. Why not, Matt?

Is all of that hopeful vision stuff "crap?" In one sense, yes, absolutely. In another sense, not at all. It is about what Americans believe, about themselves, about their government, about the world they live in. There will be plenty of time for specifics. But Kerry's smart to know that the specifics are largely decisions one has to make after the election. Getting there is about an idea. And I don't think that's crap.

Posted by: weboy | Jul 30, 2004 10:05:25 AM

Because I'm a total junkie, even though I don't agree with Kerry and will not vote for him, I was hoping for a rabble-rousing and substantive speech. Cleland's intro was better. Kerry blew it.


Posted by: j.scott barnard | Jul 30, 2004 10:13:16 AM

I'm not exactly the target audience either, but I had to wonder - does that "we'll pay for your entire life by taxing those nasty rich people" stuff still convince anybody in these cynical and media-savvy times? I have a hard time believing even Democrats fall for that anymore.

As to the quality of the performance, it looks like the debates are probably going to be a bit more of a clash of equals than I had expected. Kerry looked notably stiffer and less at ease making a scripted presentation than Bush does. Kerry will have to hope Bush retains his title as the worst extemporaneous speaker ever to hold the office if he expects to prevail in the one-on-one stuff.

I hadn't planned to watch the debates, but now I think I'll find the time.

Posted by: Dick Eagleson | Jul 30, 2004 10:20:46 AM

Ha! again.

So a viable Democratic candidate's first step is to ignore zizka's opinion, and his second step is to ignore Matt's opinion. By a process of reduction he will be able to hone his message. The way the sculptor carves an elephant by cutting away all the parts that don't look like an elephant. Or the way the logician proves that all crows are black by examining all non-black objects and finding that they are all non-crows. Easy.

As I said in the previous thread, the crappiness of political speeches is ontological, which is why I never listen to any. Matt's belief that Kerry should have talked about major policy issues strikes me as unsophisticated, though, especially because he meant Iraq. As I understand, Kerry's political strategy visavis Iraq is to let Bush twist in the wind and/or dig himself in deeper.

BTW, catowner's comment deserves a thread. Ashcroft is unrelentingly sinister. Alas, Matt Taibbi says that Kerry has several War on Drugs honchos ("narcs" in T's language, Google it) on his team. No good.

Posted by: Zizka | Jul 30, 2004 10:27:34 AM

Matt's specific objections are fair and honest. However, the conclusion that the speech was "very bad crap" seems to be a serious recalibration of the speech evaluation scale. I suppose the Gettysburg Address was so-so: "eloquent and not bloated but I would have liked to hear more about slavery"

Posted by: pp | Jul 30, 2004 10:36:40 AM

Given the GOP's/media fixation of "flip-flops", it would be a terrible idea to give specific answers to temporary problems.

I'm surprised you don't see that.

Posted by: Karmakin | Jul 30, 2004 10:47:40 AM

i think you're right, it was crap. And not even really good crap in the sense of appealing to moderates. The end was good in that sense at least, but all the way through the beginning my friends and i were howling 'East Berlin? give me a break'. But maybe thats just because we're young.

Posted by: Nicholas Yglesias | Jul 30, 2004 11:00:46 AM

I generally respect your thoughts on different subjects, so more explanation would be welcome. Kerry was short on details but he had a lot of material to cover and most of the (TV) audience can't (or is unwilling to) follow details anyway. So I am not sure what you are complaining about. What I heard him say about national security was: (a) work with allies; (b) get terrorists before they get us; (c) real intelligence.

Those seem about right. The only other main approach (which he could not voice since it is too likely to be spun as "placating the terrorists") has to do with increasing human rights around the world.

I may be being dim-witted here, but what else you got?

Posted by: pwax | Jul 30, 2004 11:02:55 AM

If you know of anyone who has a plan (at least a reasonable plan) about what should be done in Iraq starting now, could you please link to it.

Posted by: Bender Rodriguez | Jul 30, 2004 11:09:27 AM

Look, did Eisenhower set forth a detailed peace plan in his first campaign? No, he said, "I will go to Korea," meaning, he would apply his expertise and general philosophy to find a solution, based on the specific facts that existed when he took office.

Did Lincoln offer a detailed plan for dealing with the South? Hell, no! Did FDR give specifics as to how to deal with the depression? No! How long did Wilson's proposals in his second campaign for dealing with Germany last? "He kept us out of the war" just barely survived his second inauguration!

Hell, what specifics has GWB offered us for his hypothetical 2nd term, other than that he intends to be a "peace president"?

Campaigns are the time for discussions of principles, not specifics. Nobody knows what will be happening in Iraq 6 months from now, anyway.

Posted by: rea | Jul 30, 2004 11:10:21 AM

As a critic I would hope you would evaluate performances based on what they ARE, rather than what you wished they were. At the least, you should list your biases up front.

It seems your experience has been with intellectual, educational lectures and seminars. Obviously you were very good at those, and you seemed to be looking for the same thing during the convention.

When you are judging sheep at the county fair you don't mark them down because they are not horses.

My own critique of Kerry's Acceptance speech is that it worked very well at an emotional level, and it did what it had to do. If I wanted to nit-pick, I'd say he was TOO focused on ending on time (one of the networks even commented on this - he had a BIG clock to watch and was determined to end before 11 eastern). Because of the time issue he frequently walked over applause, and that disrupted his pacing a little bit.

Overall, though, he showed America that we can trust him as President.

Posted by: Tripp | Jul 30, 2004 11:14:44 AM

In case anyone missed Digby:

I Gotcher Iconoclasm For Ya, Right Here

It is quite shocking that in his speech tonight Kerry didn't so much as mention our strategic situation with Egypt or explain the full ramifications of outsourcing, to be sure, but this seems a bit harsh. Gawd knows he should have at least produced a good long laundry list of arcane foreign policy goals to make the soaring oratory go down a little bit easier. But, hey, they can't all be riveting AEI seminars.

Seriously, I think that Matt simply doesn't like this type of political speech which is meant to engage the emotions not the intellect. Indeed, I was very worried that Kerry was going to do exactly what Matt wishes he had done. A State of the Union speech or a speech before the Army War College or something like that is the proper venue for addressing specific and detailed policy issues. A convention acceptance speech is like an inauguration speech. It's about inspiration not specifics.

That Kerry is being rapped for not being dry and wonkish enough is very good news for his electoral prospects.

Posted by: MattB | Jul 30, 2004 11:18:27 AM

Having someone with an intelligent, coherent plan for what should be done with Iraq now is enough of a problem, but having someone who can say now exactly what they'd do in January 2005 with Iraq is impossible--it's a volatile region, and what Kerry did (quite well, I thought) was lay out PRINCIPLES that he will use to guide him. I agree with the basic principles he laid out, and that, even in the absence of an exact plan, is a hell of a lot better than what we have now.

Posted by: Matt | Jul 30, 2004 11:19:54 AM

That line about the politics of freedom versus the politics of fear was brilliant. Brilliant. And will be used for generations. I hope they go with that, Help is on the way is fine, so is Hope is on the way, but the politics of freedom is tremendous. It is Jeffersonian.

Posted by: Alice Marshall | Jul 30, 2004 11:21:34 AM

Now, see, Matt, you let all of those policy fora raise your expectations about the policy content of Kerry's speech.

Some of your critiques are on the money, some of them off. Notably, I'd say that in your previous post you jump from saying that Kerry isn't talking about compensating the losers in globalization to ... complaining about the way he talked about HEALTH CARE, which is just about the most important way he could compensate said losers.

So I'd say you can do better than that.

Posted by: praktike | Jul 30, 2004 11:23:13 AM

Folks, we are in a world of shit in the Middle East. A world of shit. We are really no longer in an optional position over there, no matter what the Nader half of the party might hope. We have bad problems that need to be solved. It wouldn't have taken much to help us out here, to give us a clue, Kerry could have said:

"I will make friends with Iran"
"I will declare war on Iran."

Or equivalent euphemisms.

Yes, both are politically horrible things to say, but most likely one of the two will happen. It would have been nice it Kerry could have gotten just an itty-bitty mandate for the choice he has in mind. Because we will remain a closely divided country after the election, and Kerry is gonna need all the help he can get.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Jul 30, 2004 11:32:26 AM

Bob, I think the Iran stuff is under most people's radar's right now. By October it'll be front page news, but for now he didn't have to say anything about it.

Posted by: praktike | Jul 30, 2004 11:39:16 AM

Bob, Prattike.

Look at it this way. Say that Kerry comes right out and says that they would smooth things over with Iran. Or go to war with Iran. Whatever.

Then Iran goes and does something that makes that policy unworkable. What then? Do you change the stance..but that's the dreaded flip flop!

I wish there was more policy there too. But given the political and cultural envrionment, you're not going to get that.

The world is too complex to lock yourself into corners.

Posted by: Karmakin | Jul 30, 2004 11:53:34 AM


I don't think that's true.

Bush is going to come out and say (and already has) that under no circumstances will he allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons.

Kerry's response? "Work with allies bladdy blah blah?" He's going to have to do better than that, I'd think, especially if the IAEA, the British, the French, and the Germans can't do the job. What if Iran just says "Fuck you, we're doing what we want?"

Posted by: praktike | Jul 30, 2004 12:24:41 PM

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