Ann Coulter shows no pretence

I  found myself looking at almost identical tag lines for two speeches by the same person but at different venues, “Ann Coulter just gave an OUTSTANDING Speech, gets standing ovation”. I just had to watch this paragon. The two speeches turned out to be very similar, but the video of one of them was a bit of a technical mess, so I chose the other which was less of a mess though the camera work was sloppy.

Ann Coulter has been described as the undisputed star of the rightwing American loudmouths, and while preparing this posting I watched her fillet Jeremy Paxman without breaking sweat.

The speech that I chose to cover here was at the Oxford Union, not normally regarded as a hotbed of right wing extremism, and I was fascinated to see how they took to her uncompromising approach to her opinions.

Coulter brings newness. President Trump is possibly the most polarising figure I can remember, and people’s attitude towards him has become tedious. I suffer from Trump fatigue to such an extent that when his name gets mentioned I want to be somewhere else. Trump haters will not hear a word on his behalf, not even over the promising developments in North Korea. Trump lovers will not hear a word against him. I’d given up waiting for an evaluation of his presidential progress that wasn’t buried under bigotry.

Here we have someone who, in her own words, is holding his feet to the fire. Very much a supporter she is nevertheless highly critical of him. I don’t have to agree with her to find that refreshing.

Her speaking style is likewise refreshing, being stripped of pretence. She just talks! Her focus is where it should be – on her message and her audience, she has plenty to say and she keeps it simple. I enjoy listening.

I also enjoy transatlantic echoes. In the early days of this blog I went out looking for speeches beyond British shores, many of them American, and got mildly involved in American politics. Despite the differing political systems the similarities with Britain are almost spooky. It was not mere chance that the Brexit vote and Trump’s election occurred within a few months of each other: both nations were facing similar fundamental issues. As an example, take a sentence that Coulter utters as part of her explanation for Trump’s electoral victory…

For twenty years both political parties have been lying to us…

From the evidence of this video Coulter didn’t get a standing ovation. The audience did laugh a couple of times, but in the main greeted the speech in respectful and thoughtful silence, applauding at the end. If they departed the hall disagreeing with every word she spoke, they didn’t do it from ignorance. They heard her out, probably learnt something, and that’s the value of free speech.

 

Laura Ingraham braves it

One of the speakers at the Republican National Congress at Cleveland Ohio in July 2016 was Laura Ingraham.

I tend to limit my coverage of speeches at American national congresses because they’re so damn noisy. I just get less opportunity to see the subtler nuances of a speaker in this environment. National congresses don’t do subtle.

At the time, this speech hit the headlines via accusations that Ingraham had performed a Nazi salute. I went online, looked, rolled my eyes, shook my head wearily, and forgot about it. She had waved as she came on stage, and they freeze-framed it. That is the cheapest and easiest way to smear anyone at all. Apologists for the left fight a constant battle to paint Nazism as right wing because their eternal embarrassment is that Hitler considered himself a socialist. That’s not idle opinion: it’s in his writings.

Reflecting recently I wondered what it was about this speech that caused the media desperately to resort to such a pitiful device. Shall we see?

Oh dear! Since I last watched this, they’ve edited out her entrance. What a stupid mistake! Now the casual viewer might assume that there really was a Nazi salute. You however can have a look here.

75 seconds in, and we see the first reason they had to smear her: she’s supporting Trump. A few more seconds and she’s expressed concern that the Obama administration had caused the USA’s prosperity to decline. How dare she! Everyone knows that anything short of idolatry concerning Obama is racist – at least, that was the orthodoxy then.

Equally reprehensible is positive reference to the American Dream, yet less than 3 minutes from starting she’s covered how her parents worked and worked to buy their children an education and how there is dignity in any job. This is incendiary stuff!

Another reason that I tend to avoid national convention speeches is that when you are preaching ‘to the choir’, when you could almost walk on, pick your nose for a minute and walk off to cheers of adulation, speeches can too often turn flabby. A speech usually needs an element of opposing stress to keep it tight. Despite this, Ingraham does keep it tight, and she does more.

If she has a filter she’s left it at home. From 12:00 she tears into the Obama administration in general and Hillary Clinton in particular. She then tears into the press gallery, accusing them of not doing their job in exposing corruption. She tears into the pollsters, the lobbyists, the consultants, all the occupants of what we even this side of the Atlantic now know as The Swamp. She almost shrieks her peroration.

Did I mention opposing stress? The crowds roaring their support in the hall are a tiny proportion of her overall audience, and she knows it. Had Clinton won I wonder where Ingraham would be now. Since January 2017 it has increasingly emerged not only that most of the media were in Obama’s pocket – we already knew that, not only that the IRS had been disgracefully politicised – we knew that too, but that this corruption had metastasised into the DOJ and FBI. This is the swamp whose mopping-up continues today.

Had Clinton won, Laura Ingraham’s non-existent Nazi salute might have been the least of her worries.

Marc Kasowitz and frustration

In 2017 The Oxford Union hosted a talk by Marc Kasowitz.  They do not tell us the precise date, but the video was posted on line in November.

The name was not familiar to me, but it took mere seconds to establish that he is a lawyer, and among his clients is President Trump. As expected, the comments below the posted video had its fair share of rudeness; but what shocked me was reference to Kasowitz being Jewish. I am at a loss to know what difference this is supposed to make.

He reads his preamble. He even reads the details of his birth. I mention this not to pour scorn on him but to highlight how so many believe that paper is an antidote to nerves. It isn’t: it is one way to battle The Hump, but not a very good one. Paper makes a lousy comfort blanket, but he is persuaded to play it this way.

He spends the first fifteen minutes speaking about his father, a scrap metal dealer. Had I been advising him, I should have tried to dissuade him from this because it is notoriously difficult to do without curling your audience’s toes. I’d have been wrong: he pulls it off. Although he makes no bones about idolising his father, he does so in a manner that is as comfortable, matter-of-fact, and unsentimental as can be achieved. He also manages to cast forward, explaining how following his father’s ethos in business helped his career as a lawyer. Perhaps obeying the Fifth Commandment comes so naturally to the Jewish culture that it requires no stage management. For my purposes this section does something even more important: it periodically lifts his eyes from that wretched paper so that he engages the audience and liberates his natural ability as a raconteur. More. I want more of that.

He begins talking about his legal career, swiftly moving to the founding of his own firm. My interest quickens when he promises to recount some case histories – more raconteuring!

The case histories are at least as interesting and absorbing as expected, and Kasowitz comes across as personable. His eyes do lift from the paper often enough to lift the spirit of the talk, but seldom enough to cause me severe frustration.

His talk concludes at 37:30, and he swings into Q&A. I wonder what they’ll ask about…

 

 

Denis Prager: Israel and Hamas

When President Trump this month stepped up and declared that the USA would move its Israel embassy to Jerusalem, he honoured a campaign promise that was likewise made by Presidents Clinton, G. W. Bush, and Obama (though in all their cases they dishonoured it). Logic therefore has it that he should have been praised. Instead there was histrionic clutching of pearls not so much by that trinity but by too many of the world’s current senior politicians and mainstream media, all of whom should be ashamed of themselves. The BBC, with characteristic disingenuousness, said that Trump had overturned “decades of official US policy“, carefully overlooking that US Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act in 1995 and has had it on the books with bipartisan support ever since.

I was immediately put in mind of this speech from Mordechai Kedar in which he explained how though Jerusalem was historically Israel’s capital it has never been the capital of any muslim potentate. I also recalled seeing a speech which was made in a debate in 2015 at the Oxford Union by Denis Prager. I nearly covered it then, but for some reason didn’t. Perhaps this timing is better.

The debate’s motion was This House Believes that Hamas is a Greater Obstacle to Peace Than Israel. In passing, I think this Learned Institution actually meant “…greater obstacle than Israel to peace” though their wording is unintentionally just as true.

Regular readers will know that I love it when speakers speak their minds, whether or not I agree with them. There is no mealy-mouthed fannying-about here: Prager goes straight for the jugular.

This speech is so important for what he says that, rather than criticise how he says it, I shall merely point out a few things. For instance…

Prager describes how President Reagan was greeted by howls of anguish and condemnation when he called the Soviet Union an evil empire. In retrospect no one can respectably deny that Reagan was right, of course. The body count alone is witness.

He discusses how that highlights the extraordinary way that academics, for whom unfashionable opinions are worse than wrong ones, still pay lip service to the bizarre notion that no culture may be deemed superior to any other even though the societies they create are manifestly so. (Bureaucrats, prelates, and other classes of self-regarding citizenry tend to be just as bad.)

We get a little comic relief in the shape of some female on the opposing side who is desperate to interject and displays body language like a spoilt primary school pupil. Eventually he allows her to liberate her ‘killer point’ and proceeds ruthlessly to crush it.

One reason this speech is so relevant today two years after being delivered is that President Trump’s declaration caused Hamas to claim that he had “opened the gates of hell”. If that meant they would lob missiles into Israel, then what’s new? Trump evidently doesn’t give a rat’s corbyn what Hamas says, and already the carefully choreographed flag burnings, lovingly broadcast on TV, have largely fizzled out. Claims that this would impede the peace process are risible: it hasn’t been going anywhere for years. There are plausible reasons to suppose it will accelerate it.  Back to Prager …

He opened with cries of incredulity that this motion was even up for debate. It’s difficult to disagree, though for those of us passionately devoted to freedom of speech it’s encouraging to watch as a preposterous notion is destroyed, not by diktat but by reasoned argument.

Tucker Carlson, by the way

On 6 March in Washington DC, Tucker Carlson addressed the International Association of Firefighters.

Situated as I am on the east side of the Atlantic, my relationship with the US media can most charitably be described as sporadic. Nevertheless, in the eternal hunt for speeches I do spend a lot of time on YouTube. So it was that Tucker Carlson crept his way into my consciousness some months ago. He wasn’t making speeches, but he was interviewing many of the speakers into whose background I was delving for the purpose of this blog.

He was interviewing remarkably well, and had a refreshing approach to heavily adversarial, hostile, interviewees. Rather than show anger he would most often deploy one or both of two facial expressions –

  • Little boy puzzled
  • Little boy laughing

He was exploiting his chubbily boyish face, which is highly personable, and making it a hell of a weapon. More importantly the boy could play: he unerringly asked the questions I happened to want asked, couched in the most reasonable terms.

I had vaguely wondered how he would fare on a speaking platform, so when I saw a speech from him on line I pounced.

We don’t see the opening, but come in halfway through a sentence. I understand that people want videos that hit the ground running, but with my niche interest I want to see the opening. Public speaking is like flying an aeroplane inasmuch as the most tricky parts are the takeoff and landing. The rest is relatively easy.

We join Carlson already in the air and climbing. The first words we hear are “By the way” and they herald one seriously attention-grabbing sentence. From there it goes on up. This is a phenomenal speech!

He produces nail after nail and hits each one squarely on the head. I won’t tell you how; I won’t tell you why; you just need to watch it. It answers many questions.

He has a verbal mannerism. I tell my trainees never to worry about mannerisms because if their speech is interesting enough no-one will notice. It just happens to be my job, so I notice. He says “By the way”. I haven’t counted how many times he says it in this speech because I’d rather have a life, but it’s a lot. If I hadn’t mentioned it you wouldn’t have noticed because the speech is spell-binding. It’s refreshing as spring water, coming from someone in the government/media bubble.  Nail-head-nail-head all the way through.

By the way, one of the reasons “By the way” comes out so much is that he has a neat line in micro-digressions. It’s almost as if they supply the mortar between the bricks of his theme.

Another neat line is in self-deprecation – not in an overt simpering way but in tiny, easily missable, almost subliminal throw-away lines. At 13:30 he throws open to questions. See if you pick up the nano-self-deprecation in his final sentence, and ask yourself whether you would have done without my drawing your attention to it.

He’s a very good speaker, and this is a hell of a good speech. Nail-head-nail-head. I’d still have liked to have seen his takeoff, by the way.

Sebastian Gorka has presence

Nearly a year ago on 2 March, 2016 the Institute of World Politics hosted a talk from Dr Sebastian Gorka.

I have watched Dr Gorka a couple of times making mincemeat of aggressive opponents on TV programmes, but that’s dialogue and very different from the one-way traffic of a speech. I was interested to see how good he was in monologue.

Also he is now Deputy Assistant to President Trump, and with the world (as distinct from antipathetic mainstream media) holding its collective breath to see how the new POTUS will shape up, it seems worth while to have a look at those advising him.

He begins by laying out his stall, with particular attention to ethos, and while he is doing it the cameraman experiments with trying to see if he can encompass both the speaker and the screen in a single locked-off shot. We quickly learn that he can’t, so we will hear Gorka refer to slides that we cannot see.

I greet this with mixed feelings. This has happened before with this blog. Sometimes I satisfied myself that nothing was lost, and this raised obviously pertinent questions concerning the need for those slides in the first place. In the event this talk comes close to that same conclusion so, out of curiosity, I went looking for other of his talks to learn more about his use of slides. I found this talk delivered to the Westminster Institute on 23 August 2013. The biggest danger with slides is that they compete with the speaker for the audience’s attention, usually through being too numerous or containing too much information. With that single (and old) sample I found that he used few slides, though they were rather overfilled with verbiage. Nevertheless there is a particular reason that I am confident that his slides will never compete with him.

Dr Gorka has presence.

It is an almost indefinable quality, but unmissable when you meet it. It is a quality that can barely be taught, though it can be nurtured, because it has to come completely from within. It cannot be synthesised, cannot be faked. It is built on a measure of inner confidence in your command of the subject; and that command comes firstly through a huge amount of work and secondly through experience – testing and arguing your opinions to destruction. We in the audience cannot help but believe that Gorka really knows what he is talking about.

That is what makes him so formidable in TV interviews, and what gives him that huge presence. His powerful voice also helps. Note that I said powerful, not loud. There is an important difference.

His self-confidence is not hubris: I picked up a few fleeting glimpses of insecurity, but then everyone has insecurity. So they should: it keeps them sharp.

I earnestly commend both the speech and the brief Q&A. They are both depressing and encouraging. The scenario is depressing, the prognosis reveals pinpoints of daylight. Chief amongst the latter is that he is at the POTUS elbow.

President Trump – find the Face…

You may have happened to notice that on 20 January in Washington DC Donald J Trump was inaugurated President of the United States of America. As is customary he delivered an inaugural address.

One of the central pillars of my public speaking training is, if you want a speech to be remembered, include something that people will remember. I call it the Face of the speech, a purple passage that will be quotable. The word is even in the title of my book.

Past POTUS inaugural speeches have included many quotable Faces. I bet you know who said the following –

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

Ask not what your country can do for you: ask what you can do for your country.

You ain’t seen nothing yet!

Reagan, of course, openly plagiarised the third for his second inaugural; but then Kennedy pinched the second from Epictetus. Who cares?

Let’s see what Trump offered in this respect…

The answer is almost everything. After preliminary niceties, from 1:38 through to 4:00 there are six declarations, any of which could be condensed to a golden quote for posterity and all saying essentially that government is being returned to the people.

Thereafter the theme adjusts slightly but the speech is still wall-to-wall purple. Trying to find a Face amongst this lot is like trying to find an individual peak in the Himalayas. Imagining my advising him, I find myself pursuing that very simile – “For heaven’s sake lower the surrounding landscape so that we may identify the mountains!”

Suddenly he hits us with two words, both emphasised with heavy deliberation. He pauses, and then gives them again –

America First!

Is this the Face? It is certainly the opening of a new chapter in the speech. It introduces a section on the subject of Protectionism. At 10:20 he tells us to follow two simple rules –

Buy American: hire American

I am disappointed: three is always many times stronger than two. He knows that: he uses triads often. If he added –

Sell American

– he would have his triad, an epistrophe at that . Also, buying and hiring may move money around but it doesn’t create wealth. Selling does.

A hugely telling moment comes shortly afterwards when he undertakes to eradicate “Radical Islamic Terrorism”. That is the first time anyone has heard those words spoken by an American President, certainly for eight years. They never passed Obama’s lips. Maajid Nawaz calls it the “Voldemort Effect” – the name that shall not be spoken.

For his peroration Trump returns to his original theme, with the words –

You will never be ignored again

– and culminates in a five-element symploce. “Together we will –

Make America Strong Again

Make America Wealthy Again

Make America Proud Again

Make America Safe Again

Make America Great Again!”

– and there it is, literally at last.  The Face.

Interestingly, when I have challenged seminar audiences to quote me anything from either of Obama’s inaugural speeches, I have been greeted mainly by blank faces. Occasionally an optimist has suggested, “Yes We Can”? I have been forced to discard that, because although it was his campaign slogan Obama for some reason did not use it in his inaugural address. Trump on the other hand was not going to squander the words emblazoned on all those baseball caps worn by his supporters. MAGA has been his talisman acronym.

Now he has to deliver…