Last night, my wife and I went to a rally for Al Franken’s senate campaign…the draw: Bill Clinton was coming to town. It was my second rally of the year; the first was last week I took my son to see Hillary Rodham Clinton when she came to town to goose the Franken campaign.
I come to these things as a sort of tourist. I just can’t bring myself to get truly revved-up-fist-pumping-slogan-shouting over — as President Clinton artfully called it — “some whoop-de-do political speech.” Anyway, I know who I’m going to vote for, but heck — last week it was Hillary and this week it was Bill and my wife wanted to see what the fuss was about.
So we got there at a decent time and carved out a spot in the crowd with a pretty good sightline. And after two rallies this year, some observations:
- If you go to one of these things, expect to stand. A lot. Since it was the former president and we were lined up in front of the auditorium at the Minneapolis Convention Center, a few of us had the thought that we might get to sit in the auditorium. But you don’t want 5000 volunteers, partisans, celebrity hounds and curious folks who just want their kid to get a glimpse of the former president to be photographed lolling about in auditorium seats. You want them standing, shouting, cheering and waving signs proclaiming that Obama+Franken=Change to stamp out that ticket-splitting idea promulgated by that silly old StarTribune!
So we stood.
- These events aren’t exactly run like well-oiled machines. They start early and end late — timed to finish in time for the 10 pm news (they failed on this one by the way. WCCO had its reporter talking over Clinton live). You get your warm-up acts — mayors, representatives, state officers. Then you get a break. Then you get Walter Mondale, a nice surprise. Then you get Sen. Klobuchar, and then a recorded Al Gore speech. Eventually, Franken and Clinton arrive. We’d been standing for 3 hours at this point.
- You can really tell who in the party’s ‘big leagues’ at these rallies. They speak in ways that are not just smooth and practiced, but passionate and controlled. They’re confident, comfortable in their own skin. They tell stories that flow effortlessly from funny to personal to issues to the big picture.
My take from afar? Though she’s not running this year, Minnesotans will have the chance to vote for Sen. Amy Klobuchar for a long time. And Minneapolis’ R.T. Rybak seems to have matured over his years in the mayor’s office … strong speaker, and comfortable working the lines outside, too.
- There are a few Democrats who haven’t gotten the message about rising above identity politics. Rep. Keith Ellison, for example, felt the need to give a shout out to the usual laundry list of Democratic ‘communities.’ Sounds 1980s to me. The Democratic message resonates strongest when it speaks to us as individuals with common issues and aspirations, rather than communities with interests.
- Al Franken comes across far better in speeches than he does in debates or ads. Granted, it’s a good crowd for him. But the guy is engaging. He’s clearly smart. And he’s funny, but in ways that get you thinking. Moreover, he never talks about himself – never says his own name. Never even says “vote for me.” He talks about his audience, and he talks about issues.
- Watching Clinton, I can’t help but compare him to the Republican vice presidential nominee. Clinton isn’t shy with the y’all’s. He apologizes for not giving a “whoop-de-do political speech”. He’s not being folksy. He is folksy – and frighteningly conversant on issues from the financial crisis to national security.
At times, Clinton dances on the edge of being condescending or didactic, but largely, it works … you’ve got to respect what he he has to say (and besides, as my mother-in-law says, “he’s a very handsome man).
At 700 words, I’ll stop here… a few more thoughts tomorrow on politicians as public speakers. Thanks for reading!