GB Who are the best speakers in the world today, politically?
JRS Long silence. The reason for which there is a ‘long silence’ is that, with the gradual bureaucratization of politics, we have ended up with – through the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s – politicians increasingly reading speeches written for them by somebody else; that is, politicians being made to feel that they were not the real political leaders, but rather – in a sense – heads of a large bureaucracy. The result has been that politicians may think that they have a responsibility to speak in a solid and measured way – with the consequence that they not only became boring and bad speakers, but sound artificial and are not listened to. Modern speech writers started adding in ‘rhetoric,’ which sounded artificial, and led to people listening even less to political speeches. This also came with a rise in populism; that is, we saw the revival of populist speaking – with populist politicians winning power here and there – meaning that the speech writers started putting populist rhetoric in as a gloss on top of the boring managerial material that they had been producing. So what we now have are sensible, elected leaders giving speeches that, at one level, are boring, solid stuff and, at another level, cheap rhetoric.
…Many political leaders think that it is dangerous to speak well. In fact, they are looking to bore people – and we feel that. As a result, when we stand up and say real things, people are quite shocked. And that is because they are always working on this level of measurement. If we take someone like a Trudeau or an FDR, or an LBJ, or a de Gaulle – someone like that – they knew that speeches are not about who will like them and dislike them. Speeches are actually about whether people will respect you because you have spoken to them in a way that they take to be honest – as if they are treated in a way that is intelligent. Trudeau was often boring, but his secret was that, even when he was being insulting, he was talking to you as if you were as smart as he was.