Political Rhetoric and Speechwriter ‘Tricks’

How the art of political rhetoric is regarded differently in Britain and America:

In the US, the act of speechwriting has gained an almost mythical status. As keepers of the president’s words, the speechwriters are at the centre of government and are objects of fascination. It is a little different in Westminster. There are no “speechwriting offices”. There is no official Downing Street speechwriting team. […] There is none of the collaboration and, as a result, little of the powerful effect. […]

Today, says [historian Simon Schama], it is “highly allergic in our British culture to be extravagantly rhetorical”. To turn a fine phrase suggests duplicity.

As the article later states, when it was discovered that Gordon Brown employed the services of speechwriters for an address to Congress in 2009:

The money – indeed, the very existence of such a service – appeared to come as a shock to us in Britain. It exposed the stark differences between the two countries’ oratorical cultures. In Washington, speechwriting is a professional undertaking; the speechwriter is a known quantity. Here, the idea that time or money has been spent crafting a politician’s presentation arouses suspicion. The realisation that the words are not his own only adds to the sense that they are false.

The article suggests there are three speeches worth remembering in contemporary British politics (Robin Cook’s 2003 Cabinet resignation on the eve of the Iraq war, Tony Blair’s 1999 speech on humanitarian intervention and David Cameron’s 2005 Conservative Party leadership pitch) and begins with some succinct speechwriting ‘tricks’:

Verbal tricks that make a speech fly: contradictions (Blair: “September 11 was not an isolated event, but a tragic prologue”), opposites (Napoleon: “Glory is fleeting, but obscurity is for ever”), phrase reversals (Obama: “There is not a liberal America and a conservative America – there is the United States of America”).



2 responses to “Political Rhetoric and Speechwriter ‘Tricks’”

  1. […] are almost too many ideas floating around this article to summarize it adequately (Lloyd takes a pretty good stab at it). One of my favorites is the suggestion that great political orators are incapable of existing now […]

  2. Here is one great political/persuasion speech – Mayor Bloomberg’s Aug. 3 speech on the Ground Zero mosque vote. Here’s my take on the techniques Bloomberg and his team employed to make this perhaps his most memorable speech of his tenure: