A movement becomes a racket

Matt Latimer, a Republican speech writer for Bush and Rumsfeld, has written a very entertaining book called Speech*Less.

In it, he chronicles his misadventures as an idealist in a palace of racketeers.

Here he is describing the 2008 campaign from inside Washington.

…I was at a dinner party with four or five Republicans who’d been involved with every GOP election since 1976.  Without exception, they hated McCain.  “He’s a lunatic,” said one.  Others attacked him from the right as a betrayer of the faith.  Another attacked McCain from the left, saying he was too quick to go to war.

Yet I was the only one of the entire group who balked at voting for him.  They’d all vote for someone whom they admitted was a “lunatic,” a “liar,” a “sellout,” and a “traitor” because, as one of them put it, “getting elected is the name of the game, right?”  To these people, politics was just a business.  They might have hated McCain, but Republicans gave them contracts and consulting fees.  They didn’t care who led them or what they stood for as long as they stayed in power.  I was reminded of what a philosopher said early in the twentieth century:  “Every great cause begins as a movement, degenerates into a business, and ends as a racket.”

Let’s not get partisan here.  The other side acts the same way.  The point being made is that idealistic institutions are founded on passionate idealism and end up running on dogged determination to keep the corpse of the original idea alive so that the people running the thing can have a job.

Ideals have a half-life.  It’s why Jefferson said that the “tree of democracy” needs to be watered now and then with “the blood of tyrants.”

Businesses have a half-life too, and need to be watered with new ideas, new products and new people.  Public speaking, likewise.  It needs to grow and change too.  It can’t stay antique, pompous, lousy with cliches.  As an institution and a craft, it needs to break new ground.  PowerPoint is new.  TEDTalks are new.  The rise of story vs. rational, analytical discourse represents at the very least a swing of the pendulum.

But where do we go from here.  Do we play music when we speak?  Do we waft scents into the room to manipulate the olfactory and emotional centers of the listeners’ brains, the way some realtors bake apple pies in Open Houses?  Does PowerPoint get replaced with a software that sends subliminal messages to the audience, bypassing their conscious awareness, and tipping them toward agreement with the ideas of the speaker?

Who knows?  Do we rehearse in front of hired audiences that wear electro-encephalograms on their heads in order to test the neuro-power of our phrases?  Or do we use robots as guinea pigs?

Will we learn how to build talks that are addictive, like the salty and fatty foods designed by food chemists and flavor engineers?

Can we create implants to help us remember all the facts we’d like to rattle off?  Microscopic chips planted just under the skin enabling us to forego the hard work of rehearsal?  Or do we hire avatars or holograms to speak on our behalf?

Stay tuned for a re-birth of the ancient art of rhetoric, persuasive speaking grounded in research, rooted in science, and capable of hitting the rational and emotional thought centers of decision makers, whether they are voters, customers, or senior executive decision-makers.


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