TAMPA -- Remember when speakers addressed the public in a way that made you actually want to listen, and not switch the TV over to “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” or go clean the gutters?
Former Rep. Artur Davis of Alabama brought a bit of that flavor back to the Republican National Convention on Tuesday night with a rhythmic, energized speech that recalled some of the great orators of bygone days.
Davis, who switched to the GOP after serving in Congress for eight years as a Democrat, got off a few good lines. His best was, “The last time I spoke at a convention, it turned out I was in the wrong place.” In 2008 he made a presidential nominating speech for then-Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois at the Democratic National Convention.
But more important than what he said Tuesday was the way he said it: Smooth sentences delivered in an impassioned and modulated cadence, building to points he could stress with ardor.
Remember when Ronald Reagan electrified Republicans with his speeches? Or when then-Rep. J.C. Watts, a Republican from Oklahoma, eviscerated Democrats with a fiery State of the Union rebuttal?
Tuesday night at the Republican National Convention, speaker after speaker stared into teleprompters, delivering their talks in pleasant, even tones.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, as much as her message appeals to Republicans, delivered it with hardly any resonance. Three more governors, Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, Ohio’s John Kasich and Virginia’s Bob McDonnell, spoke with about as much energy as you’d expect from a professor lecturing an undergraduate class on the history of napping.
U.S. Senate candidate and tea party favorite Ted Cruz of Texas delivered his speech without the prompters, strolling the stage and delivering his message from memory, but with so little vocal variation or emotion that he could have been saying, “The white lane is for passenger drop-off only. Please do not park in the white lane.”
You can’t fault Ann Romney for her smoothly delivered speech. She didn't set the world on fire, but she’s not a pro, and she did a creditable job. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie got the crowd going a bit with his brand of Northern unctuousness. But by the end, as he focused on the necessity of shared sacrifice and tough choices, he lost energy and oomph.
And the Democratic Party isn’t much better these days, oratorically speaking. Obama, who was launched to national prominence with his 2004 convention speech, has delivered a hot talk on occasion, but more often comes off like a guidance counselor telling Americans how important it is to get their math credits out of the way by junior year.
Bill Clinton is known for personal charm, but mostly in small groups. His most famous speech, at the 1988 Democratic National Convention, is remembered for seeming to go on longer than “The Ten Commandments.”
The Rev. Jesse Jackson and Mario Cuomo were the party's last great orators, and both hit their peaks nearly 30 years ago.
It’s hard to say whether Davis is a rising star. He was pummeled in a Democratic gubernatorial primary in 2010, then switched parties, and swaps often don’t pay off in big political jobs. There tends to be a trust issue.
But since Davis has sympathies on both sides of the aisle, here’s a potential role: Full-time nonpartisan keynoter. He’d be like the guy who plays quarterback for both teams when you have an uneven number in a pickup football game.
I know it sounds crazy, but by the time both of these conventions are over -- and dozens more politicians have tried to put us in cliche-induced comas with their vision for the hope and the dream and the promise and ... that other thing they went on about -- you might be willing to consider it.
Of course, you might be outside cleaning the gutters.