So, David Shearer and John Key made some speeches today. In the interests of even-handedness and refuting the obvious “splitter, y u hate Labour” response I get every time I dare question that sweet fuck-all has changed in Labour since they lost in 2008 … my response applies to both.
What a gigantic load of “meh”.
I’m not even talking about the policy points, nor the somewhat pained metaphors (apparently “not knowing how to use Excalibur” is some kind of cultural touchstone, despite not appearing anywhere on TV Tropes). I’m not even hugely bothered by the big announcements (National are restructuring the public service based on the back-in-vogue notion that big, generalised ministries = more efficient; the smart money says when they’re in power in the 2020s it’ll be back to small, specialised ministries = more focused and cost-effective / Labour are probably standing by more policies they nicked from the Green Party and like
Elizabeth Hurley lambs.)
I’m bothered by the utter, utter shittiness of modern speechwriting.
Great speeches are stirring and powerful and they have a sodding point, which they make clearly and strongly in a whole series of interconnected sentences. Maybe they use repetition for effect (dream/fight them on the beaches etc) and maybe they start off with a cute little anecdote … but fuck, they’ve got to have soul.
When written out, I like to assume they have more than one sentence per paragraph, on average. They could even make good blog posts, albeit lacking whatever awesome quality or memorableness a good orator’s voice adds (other things great speeches need? To be read by good orators).
Neither Key’s nor Shearer’s speeches are even in the same room as great speeches. They’re fucking boring, they’re mechanical, their writers think adding a pregnant pause at the end of each sentence makes them sound meaningful. Those sentences apparently don’t need to actually connect together, except in some weird, stream-of-consciousness way.
Let’s just try a simple compare-and-contrast, first off with one of the great speeches of the 21st century so far (pity the dude in question has turned out to be kinda rubbish):
We can stop sending our children to schools with corridors of shame and start putting them on a pathway to success. We can stop talking about how great teachers are and start rewarding them for their greatness. We can do this with our new majority.
We can harness the ingenuity of farmers and scientists; citizens and entrepreneurs to free this nation from the tyranny of oil and save our planet from a point of no return.
And when I am President, we will end this war in Iraq and bring our troops home; we will finish the job against al Qaeda in Afghanistan; we will care for our veterans; we will restore our moral standing in the world; and we will never use 9/11 as a way to scare up votes, because it is not a tactic to win an election, it is a challenge that should unite America and the world against the common threats of the twenty-first century: terrorism and nuclear weapons; climate change and poverty; genocide and disease.
All of the candidates in this race share these goals. All have good ideas. And all are patriots who serve this country honorably.
But the reason our campaign has always been different is because it’s not just about what I will do as President, it’s also about what you, the people who love this country, can do to change it.
That’s why tonight belongs to you. It belongs to the organizers and the volunteers and the staff who believed in our improbable journey and rallied so many others to join.
Thank the Gods Obama didn’t have either of our major parties’ speechwriters to hand, because it would probably have turned out more like:
School is important because it helps kids succeed.
We need to help kids succeed because kids are important.
But teachers are like Excalibur, they need someone to kick the tyres and pull them out of the stone of failure.
And farmers are like Narsil, and scientists are like Krod Mandoon’s Flaming Sword of Fire, and we need them to succeed, too.
We need our thinking people to think for us to develop a knowledge wave.
That’s how we’re going to succeed.
And [when I am Prime Minister / as Prime Minister] we will do things to make this success happen.
But this isn’t just about me.
This is about you.
And you are like our Excalibur, and when we know how to use you no more children will be abused.
No one wants children to be abused.
We want to change things and you are the wind beneath our wings.
Let’s succeed together.
Just because I know you’re salivating for some Labour-hating, go reread this post, pretend I say “David” instead of “Annette” and focus especially on the points about cliches, using the language of the enemy, and still being boringly vague while promising that honestly, the concrete policies you’re desperate for are [still] in development!
Horrifying afterthought: is Shelley Bridgeman writing both Key and Shearer’s speeches?