Orator: Someone who makes speeches in public, especially someone who is good at doing this. – MacMillan Dictionary
Both the Democrat and Republican national conventions are now history, and as a certified political junkie, I can tell you that neither candidate made it into the top five for speechmaking.
Remember, the operative word is “candidate” so former President Bill Clinton doesn’t qualify. He showed that he can still hit the long ball, but clearly he’s lost a step or two on the elocutionary base paths.
All politicians give speeches; few are orators.
Americans thinking they could make their November decision based on speeches by Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were disappointed.
Trump couldn’t carry Ronald Reagan’s glove, and Hillary is no Bill Clinton.
Admittedly, this opinion is based only on speakers going back to 1960 – nearly my earliest memory of political speeches — when one of the best ever, John F. Kennedy, captivated live and television audiences alike with his sincerity, delivery, knowledge of the issues, and handsome features. America had never seen a candidate like Kennedy, and hasn’t since.
That said, here is my list of top five presidential candidates as public speakers:
- John F. Kennedy
- Ronald Reagan
- Bill Clinton
- Richard Nixon
- Hubert Humphrey
Some may question Nixon’s inclusion on the list, but Nixon was an excellent debater and speaker. During his debates with Kennedy, many experts listening to radio (not TV) gave the edge to Nixon. While Watergate permanently damaged Nixon’s legacy, it was Bill Clinton who was impeached, not Richard Nixon.
As to the recent conventions themselves, they were better than average because of the uncertainty relating to Trump and Bernie Sanders. If an “open convention” had occurred, as was speculated, we could have viewed a spectacle similar to the Democratic convention of 1968, which tops my list of most memorable in the last 50 years.
Then, as now, the country was deeply divided. Police brutality, real or imagined, made headlines. Then, as now, protests were everywhere. And the war of words reached extraordinary levels, as evidenced by this exchange between William F. Buckley Jr. and Gore Vidal, hired by ABC as color commentators. The topic was the Vietnam War, and Buckley compared opponents to the war to Nazi appeasers.
Said Vidal: “The only pro or crypto-Nazi I can think of is yourself.”
Buckley responded: “Now listen, you queer, quit calling me a crypto-Nazi or I’ll sock you in the godd— face and you’ll stay plastered.”
Not exactly the highest level of oratory.
Aug. 3, 2016