President Bill Clinton could read a Denny’s menu and make it sound moving and inspirational. But give the man the time and he never fails to craft a speech that, when delivered with his exquisite inflection and timing, becomes classic spoken-word rock. As performances go, Bill’s speech last night compares favorably with epic rock anthems like Stairway to Heaven, Ramblin’ Man, Free Bird or Hotel California.
And like such enduring anthems, there are riffs and solos and turns of phrasing that will not only endure over time but become a defining sound byte that captures the dawn of a new paradigm. Like Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you….” to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I have a dream….” Bill Clinton gave us the money line of the convention (baring a gem from Barack Obama tonight) that will be remembered and repeated for generations. In a single, simple, elegant turn of phrase, Clinton at once slammed the present failings of the Bush Administration and alluded to the hope and improvements of an Obama presidency. “People the world over have always been more impressed by the power of our example than by the example of our power.”
But slotted as he should be as the evening’s finale, Sen. Joe Biden, Obama’s chosen running mate, just couldn’t measure up with his vice presidential nomination acceptance speech. Missing were the verbal cadences, simple use of language and sentence construction and the evangelical delivery that is a Clinton trademark.
It is known that Biden is a hands-on speech writer, often revising his remarks mere minutes before he is set to speak. But his evening keynote acceptance of the DNC nomination for vice president was riddled with un-Biden-like phrasing and constructions. Repeatedly, Biden shortened (in almost all cases for the much better) the wordy and stilted phrases that rolled by on his teleprompter. Even worse was the contrived and ineffectual call and response usage of “John [McCain] voted again and again against renewable energy, solar, wind, biofuels. That’s not change. That’s more of the same.” The crowd tried, halfheartedly, to supply the “more of the same” line, but didn’t execute well. And to make matters worse, Biden didn’t deliver the line, either, leaving the phrase unfinished.
Even worse was Biden’s tendency to drop his voice and in some cases whisper. Yes, modulation is good. But dropping your voice to a whisper, and a soft one at that, while a packed arena of ardent fans has the background noise at a good 80 decibels is absurd.
But any shortcomings of Biden’s speech were instantly forgotten and forgiven when Obama joined his man on stage for the requisite joint appearance. The crowd went ballistic and for several seconds the noise was literally deafening. As a preview of what is sure to come tonight at Mile High Stadium, like it or not, all of downtown Denver will be within earshot of Obama’s speech.
—James Burrus, Yellow Scene Magazine
More DNC coverage here.