Speeches. I've heard many speeches this past week at the Democratic National Convention. They have been long, short, clever, dull, innovative, and sometimes endlessly repetitive. They have been given by people of every size, shape, and description. But I listen to these speeches not so much as a politician, but as one who has, in my career as a priest and bishop, given well over 10,000 speeches of my own. So, I thought it might be fun to analyze the effectiveness of the preaching style of our politicians.
Both a good preacher and a good politician know first that an effective sermonal speech is a dialogue, even if it appears to be a monologue. And so the speaker knows how to play to the audience. They develop almost a regular liturgical kind of chant, inviting the congregational audience participation. Sometimes political gatherings sound like revivals.
Good speakers approach the podium or the pulpit with confidence; physical gestures are always natural.
Politicians know more about receiving applause than clergy. So, they have developed clever, even humble, ways to respond to it. They point to various parts of the gallery as if to great individual people, making everyone in that section believe that they are pointing specifically to them. Actually, the lights on the stage make it almost impossible to see the audience.
Effective speakers wait for the applause to subside, so that that first sentence can be heard. That sentence is crucial. When a speaker's life is identified with a particular theme, the opening sentence is like dropping a calling card into the consciousness of the audience.
Political parties, just like the church, have what I call a communion of saints. And politicians refer to their saints with regularity; usually they refer only to the saints in their own parties.
Political speeches, like sermons, always have an enemy. The enemy is always evil. The audience in both cases must know the enemy. Sometimes the references go back for years, even decades. George Bush quoted the Democratic phrase from 1932 against the Democrats. The Democrats, not to be outdone, quoted a Republican phrase from 1988 against the Republicans. So, in both cases, there has to be a shared history.
Effective speakers are not thrown by the interruptions of the audience. Senator Lieberman introduced his mother, and some delegates shouted, "We love you mama." Lieberman simply worked that into his speech and kept on going.
But no one should ever suppose that these speeches don't have power. When I was a bishop, I was amazed to discover that the vocabulary and thought forms of a congregation reflected the vocabulary and the thought forms of the minister.
The cumulative power of the same person effectively addressing the same constituency for eight years as our president is enormous. Don't ever discount it. That is the real power of incumbency. As the campaign unfolds, ask yourself which of the candidates do you want to shape your thinking for the next four to eight years.
This is John Shelby Spong speaking to you live from the floor of the Democratic National Convention.