Monday, June 29, 2015

Political double-speak

Politicians will make decisions and create policies that people will either love or hate, if they can find an emotional response stronger than general apathy. We all understand that except for the infamous “Captain’s calls” that most decision and policies are developed collectively between the cabinet in consultation with senior public servants and political advisors.

Given this our political leaders, Presidents and Prime Ministers do not have to be brilliant economic or social planners or political strategists. The most important attribute is public speaking.

Political leaders need to be able to speak with passion, empathy, confidence and charisma.

Nothing demonstrates this more than the comparison between President Obama’s eulogy for slain Methodist preacher Rev. Clementa Pinckney and his parishioners, and nearly any speech delivered by any of Australia’s four most recent Prime Ministers.

Obama spoke, and sang with passion and strength and humility. Australia’s Tony Abbott cannot even speak in complete sentences.

Abbott speaks in broken, disjointed clusters of words pausing randomly and repeatedly throughout every speech. The pauses are not even between phrases.

Obama’s eulogy has been watch on television and downloads by millions of people the world over. When Abbott speaks even his wife Maggie would struggle to find the energy to reluctantly listen.

Prior to Abbott there was Kevin Rudd 2.0. The rebooted KRudd was focussed on taking selfies and speaking like a an any-man on is way to the pub. Sure it got a lot of attention and collectively the country felt sorry for you but just like the awkward kid at school no one was picking them to be part of their team, let alone to be the captain.

Before Rudd there was Julia Gillard. Gillard famously lost her ability to use undulating tone whenever she spoke. Almost over night the feisty articulate negotiator became monotone sounding more like an automated phone system than a political leader. One sentence in, all of her audience would struggle to keep their eyes open with no comprehension of what important topic she was droning on about.

She did fire up for her misogynist speech, a clip that caught the world’s attention. If only she had maintained the passion and the ability to use tone she may still be Australian Prime Minister.

Before Gillard was Rudd, mark 1. Rudd started his Prime Ministership with one of the great orations in Australian political history when he delivered the impassioned and long overdue Sorry Speech to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Stolen Generation.

It proved to be a bar too high for Rudd to maintain. The remainder of his first term in office he alternated between “programmatic specificity” and “fair shake of the sauce bottle”. Both extremes in his language dumbfounded political commentators and the general public alike.

Rudd’s predecessor, John Howard – Australia’s second longest serving Prime Minister - although speaking with passion and political clarity always had spittle in the corners of his mouth. The Spittle did not always in the corners of his mouth, much to the annoyance of reporters sitting in the front row of every press conference.

In addition to the wetness of his speech, Howard was also unable to pronounce the name of country he led. Australia is spelt with an “l” near the end, not a “w”.

Unlike Spain who collectively developed a lisp to hide the speech impediment of its king. The Aussie public have generally maintained all of the original syllables and letters of Australia’s name. Rioters on Sydney beaches are the exception to this rule, instead choosing slack jaw “Stra-ya” It takes too much energy to throw object and maintain a bigoted rage to be able to use all of the sounds.

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