Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Communication Applications: Of Presidents and Politicians

From the perspective of a Communication Applications class (taught by a historian!), presidential speechwriting is not only historically interesting, but also of considerable saliency. Words matter. History matters. Context matters. And, this goes without saying, but communications matter. (If you are wondering, yes, that's a pun.)

Presidential speech writing is a modern convention, inaugurated in the early twentieth century (two puns and counting). Throughout the decades, different speechwriters and different presidents collaborated in countless ways to craft policy suggestions, crisis speeches, inaugural addresses, and various other orations for other occasions.

Here you can find more about the short reading in class today from Robert Schlesinger's recently published White House Ghosts: Presidents and Their Speechwriters. You will find a five-minute clip of Schlesinger on The Daily Show customarily comical and interesting, and you should also consult a New York Times review of his book.

Also, the Miller Center for Public Affairs at the University had a Presidential Speechwriting symposium, and in what is clearly no laughing matter, read these humorous anecdotes from presidential speeches. There's also a PBS forum on Presidential speechwriting related to George W. Bush's first inaugural.

To continue our discussion of persuasive speeches, tonight's HOMEWORK requires you to analyze recent (major party) presidential candidate speeches. You will analyze the text of a speech, and then analyze the video footage of a speech (or clips), filling out the forms I handed out in class.

In essence, I want you to "grade" the candidates in terms of how they communicate, and be prepared to discuss your analysis in class.

A good place to start your search is at each candidate's website. Find John McCain here, and visit Barack Obama here. I will also give you the option of analyzing Hillary Clinton speeches, found here.

You'll easily find the text of previous speeches at each candidate's website, but I would suggest a Google search for candidate speeches to locate video versions, or visit American Rhetoric (see links).

You will analyze two speeches; however you must pick a different candidate (or former candidate) for each speech.

[Photo credit here.]