Advice for Speech-Making Politicians

You can learn more about life, politics and what truly matters from great novels than from a thousand live-from-Iowa political pundits. Here’s a telling passage from Robert Penn Warren’s All The King’s Men. The narrator, Jack Burden, has just watched aspiring pol Willie Stark give a laborious, stat-laden speech to a group of sweating, yawning blue-collar workers on a steamy July afternoon. Polite smattering of applause. Later, Stark asks Burden why the speech didn’t go over.  Burden’s reply:

Yeah, I said, I heard the speech.  But they don’t give a damn about that.  Hell, make ’em cry, make ’em laugh, make ’em think you’re their weak erring pal, or make ’em think you’re God-Almighty.  Or make ’em mad.  Even mad at you.  Just stir them up, it doesn’t matter how or why, and they’ll love you and come back for more.  Pinch ’em in the soft place.  They aren’t alive, most of ’em, and haven’t been alive in twenty years.  Hell, their wives have lost their teeth and their shape, and liquor won’t set on their stomachs, and they don’t believe in God, so it’s up to you to give ’em something to stir ’em up and make ’em feel alive again.  Just for half an hour.  That’s what they come for.  Tell ’em anything.  But for Sweet Jesus’ sake don’t try to improve their minds.


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