Rants and Raves

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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The George Bush speech in Prague

As I write this, George Bush's speech in Prague is on the television. In the audience are Vaclav Havel and Natan Shransky among other luminaries.

I'd cheerfully take a job as usher in that auditorium just to be in the same room with men like these.

So what's the speech like?

In classical rhetoric, the five parts of an oration are:

Invention (Latin, inventio; Greek, heuresis)
Arrangement (L. dispositio, G. taxis)
Style (L. elocutio, G. lexis)
Memory (L. memoria, G. mneme)
Delivery (L. actio, G. hypocrisis)

George Bush's speech writer should be proud. The type of speech is epidectic or panegyric - to praise or blame. This is a speech in praise of freedom, and of the men present, and of those who fell along the way to freedom. In terms of invention, arrangement and style, it's a great speech.

One unintentional irony in the speech is that Bush used the term "democratic ideals". In Europe he could have said "liberal" ideals and been understood perfectly by all. In America it is the so-called* liberals who will either militantly ignore the sentiments of the day, or consciously belittle them.

Memory is probably not so relevant in this age of teleprompters, but what the heck, points awarded for smooth reading without noticeable breaks in continuity.

In future years, I think people will probably read this speech with inspiration. Unfortunately, this is an age of audiovisual recording media - and the Delivery is pretty bad. Bush horribly mangles the pronunciation of several Slavic names and though he does seem to have improved his delivery somewhat during his terms of office, it is still awkward and often painful to listen to.

Bush is often derided as simple and stupid. But - though his pronouncements are often cringe-making, he does seem to see what quite a lot of clever and sophisticated people do not seem to: that between free peoples and the masters of unfree states, there can be no permanent peace.

This is always an alarming message to those of us who live in rich, free and comfortable countries, not one we really want to hear. A leader who aspires to tell unpleasant truths to the people must necessarily be articulate - which Bush isn't.**

* "I am a liberal - it's those other people who aren't liberals." G.K. Chesterton

** Consider, "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat." If you want to tell that to the electorate, you'd better be articulate.


  • At 11:38 AM, Blogger gun-totin-wacko said…

    Once upon a time, I had high hopes for Bush: He seemed Reaganesque, though lacking Reagan's polish, which in neither surprising nor necessarily bad.

    I still recall listening to his post 9-11 speech. It was a very good one, which evoked a wee bit of Churchill. At least to me.

    Of course, now the truth is a bit more clear. He's not Reagan. Neither he nor his advisors have the ability to communicate his message clearly, which is unfortunate.

    I wonder if Bush's presidency would have been better suited to the Cold War.

    Also, do you think that some of the philosophical differences between US and Europe could be related to the understanding of "liberal ideas"?

  • At 7:09 PM, Blogger Mark said…

    One of the first things I noticed paying attention to Bush - and this was about a year before the 2004 election, I was barely out of diaper school! - was that his speeches were quite well-written. I've gained a lot of respect for his speechwriters. He has very few particularly inspiring and immortal bits of phraseology, which are usually the work of the speaker himself, but every time he appears, he delivers (with consistent verbal improvement) an eloquent and rhetorically pleasing speech. I suppose you could say that they have a good aesthetic to them.

    Obviously, their content is variously accepted, as are the particulars of his delivery. But it would be interesting to conduct a study (among people who understand the question) to find out what people think of his speeches.

  • At 9:18 PM, Blogger Steve Browne said…

    I suspect that if you like what he's saying (as I did) you tend to forgive the flaws in the delivery. Still, he should have spent some time on the beach practicing speaking above the roar of the waves with a mouth full of pebbles like Demosthenes (who stuttered).

  • At 8:59 PM, Blogger Galt-In-Da-Box said…

    I've heard Dubya-speak before.
    Demosthenes probably could do better - mouth full of pebbles and stuttering issues notwithstanding.


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