”Watch what we do, not what we say:” How Can a Powerful and Moving Speech not Move Discerning Listeners?

Richard E. Vatz

Attorney General John Mitchell’s famous dictum respecting the Nixon Administration’s intentions regarding desegregation came to mind during Hillary Clinton’s stemwinder at the Democratic National Convention last night: “Watch what we do, not what we say.” This was a speech that inarguably supported Barack Obama without qualification. That was the great question Democrats had: would Hillary try to undermine Barack Obama’s candidacy by damning him with faint praise. She did not, but the peculiarity of the moment lingers on.

It was a speech which supported party unity with no winks to indicate that she really felt otherwise. It was a speech which referenced the lineage of women’s political significance. It was a speech filled with magnanimous praise for, again, Barack Obama, and his wife, Michelle, but also for Joe Biden, the man who arguably took Hillary’s place as runner-up with relatively little Democratic support in the primaries. There were strong policy attacks on her “friend” John McCain and the Republicans. The speech was literate; it was powerful; and it had a perceptible if virtually unnoticed thud with the unspoken culmination of Hillary’s campaign – NO PLACE ON THE TICKET.

Yes, for all of the Hillary-articulated congratulations for women’s political advancement, the denouement was a couple of nights of her family’s dominating the convention speeches.

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After cataloguing her accomplishments as the first serious woman candidate, the predicate is – a politics-as-usual male was chosen as Vice Presidential candidate,

At the end of the day, how do you give a speech celebrating a woman’s attainment of 18 million votes and rationalize the fact that it earned her no place on the presidential ticket, not even any vetting for the Vice Presidential position?

The Clintons and their supporters know what to say, but it cannot be lost on them what Barack Obama and the Democratic Party did.

Dr. Vatz teaches political rhetoric at Towson University

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