Republicans were treated to two powerhouse speeches during the second day of their national convention. Condoleezza Rice and Paul Ryan both demonstrated a flair for verbal persuasion, but in two very different ways. Their speeches, taken side by side, show that there are many paths to the top of the rhetorical mountain. The trick is to choose the one that suits your own personal, authentic style.
Condoleezza Rice’s deservedly well-received speech offers a terrific example of advocacy that follows the tenants of classical rhetoric. Aristotle, the father of classical rhetoric, wrote over 2,000 years ago in The Rhetoric that a speaker must possess credibility (ethos), emotional engagement (pathos), and clear logic (logos) in order to persuade. Rice possesses all three qualities in spades.
She establishes her credibility by offering plenty of facts to back up her points. In a sea of convention speeches full of platitudes supported by very few concrete ideas, Rice’s speech stands out for her command of foreign policy facts. She inspires confidence by her terrific delivery style. She is warm and pleasant; full of hope and inspiration; clear and strong without bombast or exaggeration. She sounds like a leader.
She achieves emotional engagement in two ways. First, she exhibits authentic patriotism and an earnest desire to improve the country. She seems to be speaking with very little need for notes and with straightforward eye contact, which communicates that she believes what she says. Second, she describes scenes that engender an emotional response in her audience. For example, she offers a moving account of her rise from a little girl barred from eating at the Woolworth’s lunch counter because of her race to becoming the secretary of state of the most powerful country in the world. It would be hard not to be moved by such a story.
Her logic is clear. She links specific facts (for example, the ability to predict the educational experience of a child simply by knowing that child’s zip code) to action items (giving parents greater choice, particularly those whose children are trapped in failing neighborhood schools). She uses clear, straightforward language. She is able to sum up big ideas in short, pithy statements (“We stand for free peoples and free markets.”) She speaks with a measured pace to make her points more clear. And when she wants to link logic to emotion, she speeds up, using the applause and energy of her audience to make the moment soar.
You can watch Rice’s speech, and its fine mix of ethos, pathos, logos, and effective delivery, here:
Paul Ryan’s speech is worth watching for its fine delivery and his general likeability. His delivery is strong because of his effective use of eye contact and pace. You can watch the speech here:
Notice how Ryan maintains eye contact with the audience throughout the speech, which makes him forceful and believable. He projects a Boy Scout honesty. His pace is excellent. He slows down when he wants to dwell on a particular moment, such as when he talks about his father and life in his small town. At other times he moves forward with speed and force, using the cheers of the audience to amplify his own energy, such as in the final moments of the speech:
We will not duck the tough issues, we will lead. We will not spend four years blaming others, we will take responsibility. We will not try to replace our founding principles, we will reapply our founding principles. The work ahead will be hard. These times demand the best of us— all of us, but we can do this. Together, we can do this. We can get this country working again. We can get this economy growing again. We can make the safety net safe again. We can do this.
Where Ryan is less successful is in the logic of his speech. The speech is all attack, but no concrete solutions; a litany of big problems, but no hint of a platform. He leaves himself vulnerable to questions about his credibility and logic for various claims that he made in the speech which have quickly been debunked (his claim that the President failed to save a General Motors plant in Ryan’s hometown when, in fact, the plant closed before Obama even took office, plus the bailout actually saved GM; his criticism of Obama’s cutting money from Medicare when Ryan’s own budget plan includes the same cuts; and his criticism of Obama for ignoring the report of a bipartisan debt commission when Ryan himself voted against the plan). Ryan claims that he wants to strengthen education and the safety net for the poor, but his budget does not reflect this (and has been condemned by the Catholic bishops as failing a “basic moral test” because it slashes food assistance to the poor and erodes Medicare). Ryan needs to be more careful about his claims because lapses like this erode ethos. Aristotle would be disappointed.
Still, his attack on Obama was more effectively executed than Christie’s attempt on the previous day. Christie attacked all Democrats, while Ryan fixed his sights narrowly on this President and his policies, making his the stronger argument. (See the previous post about Christie to read more about why it is a mistake in advocacy to take the “bridge too far.”) He also articulated exactly the question that Obama will need to address in his own convention, the one that plagues any sitting president when times are tough:
Right now, 23 million men and women are struggling to find work. Twenty-three million people unemployed or underemployed. Nearly one in six Americans is in poverty. Millions of young Americans have graduated from college during the Obama presidency, ready to use their gifts and get moving in life. Half of them can’t find the work they studied for, or any work at all. So here’s the question: Without a change in leadership, why would the next four years be any different from the last four years?
Grade: A- for delivery, C- for truthfulness
Rice, through her grace and elegant articulation; Ryan, with his energy and power; and Ann Romney, with her warmth and charm, present an interesting challenge for their candidate. They have set the bar quite high, and now the often awkward, sometimes robotic Governor Romney will have to meet it. It will be interesting to see whether he can rise to the challenge.