The “Comeback Kid” Comes Through and the Perils of Improv

Bookmark and Share

The Democratic National Convention

Last week I wrote about Clint Eastwood’s unintended highlight speech at the Republican National Convention (RNC) and this week my topic is the Democratic National Convention (DNC). Clint Eastwood has since revealed what he was thinking when he gave his speech. He had refused to be scripted because “I don’t know what I’m going to say”, and got the idea of using the empty chair as a prop when he saw it ten minutes before he addressed the meeting. The risks were huge for, as improv experts will tell you, only a fraction of the ideas in a new improvisation actually work. That is why you want to experiment in front of small, forgiving audiences, where it is safe to fail, and not on national television in a high-stakes moment!

The DNC was quite different from the RNC. Firstly, it was infused with positive emotion for the party’s various causes and united in its support for its candidate. At the RNC, on the other hand, the only shared emotion seemed to be a visceral antipathy toward Barack Obama, with their own candidate leaving them feeling tepid. Secondly, the DNC seemed better organized. Michelle Obama told a compelling story about her marriage to Barack and her concerns about him running for the Presidency. These down-to earth sentiments seemed to resonate broadly and painted her husband as a family man with concerns for “people like us”. Most commentators of whatever stripe admired the speech, except for Charles Krauthammer, the conservative writer for The Washington Post, who described it as “brilliantly cynical”.

The star of the show, however, was Bill Clinton. The self-described “Comeback Kid” showed how effective it can be to have a pre-written speech that allows small-scale real-time improv as events unfold. And unfold they did. After a few minutes into his delivery, I found myself thinking of anthropologist Lorna Marshall’s description of a community as being in “vibrant response” to each other. She was describing a small hunter-gatherer community talking round their campfire with their contrapuntal “ehs” being spoken in response to everything a speaker says. There was something of the same dynamic going on in the DNC, but on a much larger scale. I counted from the transcript about 130 bursts of applause, laughter or verbal responses during the roughly fifty minute address – that’s about one every 23 seconds!

A quote attributed to William James says that “humor is the shortest distance between two people” and the sparks of humor really flew between Clinton and the delegates. There were some lovely moments. He neatly skewered the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, for saying that the party’s highest priority was to make Obama a one-term president. He summarized the Republican argument against the president’s re-election as follows: “We left him a total mess. He hasn’t cleaned it up fast enough, so fire him and put us back in.” The emotional energy in the room seemed to build with every crack and jibe.

All the while Clinton was dispensing “facts” (with the usual political spins on them) and explaining complex situations. He reminded the undecided voters how he had worked with the reasonable Republicans from earlier eras and underlined his understanding of the situation from his personal experience: “I get it. I know it. I’ve been there.” He used short, crisp sentences without any propositions from Wittgenstein. “Let me ask you this…” he queried the audience, and “you be the judge”. The phrases were catchy; the Republican’s policy was to “double-down on trickle-down” and it was a “winner-take-all-you’re-on-your-own society” versus “we’re-in-this-together”.

It was a master politician, still at his peak, practicing his craft expertly. The result was akin to an old-fashioned religious revival that rallied the faithful, charged them with their purpose and sent them forth on their mission “to build a more perfect union.”

All but the most staunchly opposed to the DNC and their presidential candidate must have found it difficult not to say “Amen” to that.

Bookmark and Share
This entry was posted in General, Leadership and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The “Comeback Kid” Comes Through and the Perils of Improv

  1. warren says:

    David,

    Bill and maybe even Obama are indeed ‘masterfull’
    in their speaches with respect to connecting with
    many electorate. I admit to watching them. However,
    from day one, seeing Clinton on tv, whilst he ran
    for his first term, was still Governor of Arkansas,
    and if you recall, the ‘Flowers’ scandal was in full
    swing………and seeing Obama up and coming as
    first Community Organizer, then Senator, then running
    for President……..

    Perhaps I am not easilry fooled, not to imply you are.
    Certainly, Clinton, the ‘comback kid’, even a [email protected] BIO
    about Clinton called the ‘comback kid’, adheres to his
    life. His ability to speak so boldly and connect in his
    speach, while in the midst of contraversy/shame/untruthfulness,
    reminds me more of a sociopathic snakeoilsalesman, than any
    great leader. Many of these ‘Clinton types’, simply do not
    seem to have any shame, amongst other charcteristics of the
    ‘normal’ human ‘traits’. Indeed, if you take this with a grain
    of salt, Clinton most likely falls well beyond 3 standard deviations
    from the norm of human functioning………………..and some
    of those points of statistical deviation, ain’t necessarily a good
    thing 😉

    Warren

    • David says:

      Thanks Warren,
      Clinton is a consummate politician. It’s a profession that, unfortunately, attracts snake oil salesmen and scoundrels of all kinds and broken political systems only make it worse. I just thought his speech was the highlight of the DNC and very effective in what it set out to do. I think that there are lessons in leadership from it. It doesn’t mean that I admire him as a leader, just that he knows how to deliver an effective address.

      Thanks,

      David

  2. Your comments on both conventions are on-target, as usual!

  3. warren says:

    No David.

    What ‘we’ require is a person like you
    to ‘fire’ up the ‘troops’, and one of
    your good dissertations on community
    capitalism. That, along with your
    knowlege base, and experience, would
    suffice……me thinks. And, if you
    threw in a few ‘boxes and bubbles’, that
    would certainly bring down the house!

    I request you send your writtings or
    one of your videos to the GOP before
    it is too late!

    Warren

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

To make sure you are human: *