The Music In Politics 101

Richard S. Ginell - From Out of the The WestBy Richard S. Ginell: From Out of the West

While watching Barack Obama and Bill Clinton speak at the Democratic Convention last week, it occured to me that the difference between the two presidents’ speaking styles can be explained in terms of musical ensembles.

In the case of Obama, I think of a symphony orchestra led by an inspired conductor – a large diverse organization that reads the notes right off the printed page (as Obama reads a teleprompter), but now and then manages to harness the rhythm, flow, melodic content and meaning of the notes to rise to passages of eloquence.  Clinton, on the other hand, is more like a jazz big band. There are pre-fabricated arrangements, but there is also plenty of room for improvisation, for the soloists to go off-script, as it were, and riff away at will before heading back to the chart.  As befitting a part-time saxophone player, Clinton is a brilliant improviser – and he got off some terrific solos without letting the piece as a whole get out of hand.

Taking it a little further, Mitt Romney’s performances sound to me like generic computer music recorded at a low sampling rate– everything programmed in its proper place, but rushed in delivery, without a feel for the curves and nuances of melody, nor ear-catching harmonies, nor the timing and swing of good rhythm. In other words, it sounds stiff, artificial – a reasonably accurate match for his notoriously robotic gestures on the stump.

And if this reads like an overly partisan comparison, you tell me – in terms of the pure pleasure of savoring the English language, whose delivery would you rather listen to?