Politicians on TV

I watched the address and response last night and am not going to comment on the content, even though those of you who know me know I have definite opinions about what was said. What struck me more than anything else was the rest of the message.

President Trump went first and his speech was very short. I applaud this; it’s my opinion that many speeches are entirely unnecessary and those that aren’t are generally much too long. On the other hand, I have seen other videos of him speaking and have never seen him so inanimate. There is a give and take of energy when a public speech is going well; last night he did not have that source of energy. Just the camera, and it’s impossible to read and respond to an empty room. His speech was said to be from the Oval Office, but could almost have been any desk in any room.

The two ranking Democrats from Congress went next, and again spoke for a very short time. I remember thinking that it must be difficult for a career politician to keep it that short. Their setting was, to say the least, unusual. An empty hallway with a wall of flags behind them possibly was meant to remind viewers of the government shutdown, but also served to emphasize how uncomfortable they both looked squeezed in behind a lectern designed for one.

I am at a loss as to why three people, one a man very comfortable in the limelight and the other two career politicians, would present themselves in such an uninspiring manner. If their goal was to change anyone’s thinking, I can’t imagine that they were successful. More likely, I suppose, they were restating the positions already established by both sides. 

Marshall McLuhan said once that the medium is the message. There have been times when the medium of television was used to great effect, when the strengths of the medium itself were part of what got the point across. When TV brought the Vietnam War into the living rooms of the American people, for example, they understood it in a way they could not have before. There are many other examples, times when television was used to enhance the message, to help drive it home.  Last night was not one of those times.

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A career working with teenagers on the fringes of society has made me both sensitive to and appreciative of the complexities of character and the struggles, inner and outer, that we all wrestle with in one form or another. My writing emphasizes character development over action, and, as a lifelong Southerner, the rhythms and cadence of the Southeastern United States influence both my spoken and written voice.

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