Sunday, September 07, 2008

Sarah Palin's Acceptance Speech

Sarah Palin
2008 Republican National Convention
(Image from Wikipedia)

I'm coming late to this topic and have nothing of significance to add, no great insights, just some impressions and observations from watching Sarah Palin give her acceptance speech, which I finally saw on You Tube yesterday.

In my opinion, Ms. Palin gave a competent speech, a bit uncertain at the beginning -- her voice a little tense and nasal at the start as she acknowledged the cheers:
"Thank you."

"Thank you.

"Thank you."
The most-effective line that she delivered was a sly insinuation about Barack Obama:
"The American presidency is not supposed to be a journey of 'personal discovery'."
This remark was effective because there's a sense in which it resonates with some truth. Obama's two autobiographical books are stories of self-discovery. At least, the first one, Dreams of my Father, is. I haven't read the second, so I'm making an assumption. Anyway, a story of self-discovery is a very American sort of narrative, and I'll bet that Ms. Palin will have a story to tell after this is all over.

The question is . . . is that all there is? To Obama, I mean. Just a voyage of self-discovery? I don't think so. He may have been discovering himself in community organizing, for example, but that work does have responsibilities even if they're not exactly gubernatorial.

A related question that I have about Obama, however, is probably the same that many other voters have: What else did he learn besides something about himself? Where does he stand at this point in his self-discovery? Is he to the left, or in the center? I'll have to listen to Obama's acceptance speech soon and start paying closer attention to the campaigns now that the two main parties have selected their candidates. I also have yet to hear McCain's speech.

But let me get back to Ms. Palin. The most touching moment, for me, was her depiction of the North Vietnamese prison camp for captured American soldiers in which a recently tortured McCain is described as giving a thumbs-up and grin to a fellow POW to let him know that they would get through the horror together.

Palin's earlier allusion to Obama and her later anecdote about McCain achieved precisely what she will need to do consistently if she wants to contribute to an effective Republican campaign, namely, raise doubts about Obama and give assurances about McCain.

Of course, she will also need to prove that she is no Dan Quayle. I remember Dan Quayle well. I've listened to Dan Quayle speak. Ms. Palin is no Dan Quayle. Thank God for that. Her speechwriters want to make sure that she doesn't come across as that sort of 'Quayling' candidate, but they also want to make sure that she doesn't speak like George Bush and pronounce "nuclear" as "nu-kyu-lur," so -- as my mysterious friend JK notes and Malcolm Pollack reports -- they are going to spell it out for her:
Starting in January, in a McCain-Palin administration, we're going to lay more pipelines . . . build more new-clear plants . . . create jobs with clean coal . . . and move forward on solar, wind, geothermal and other alternative sources.
And -- in a swipe at Obama -- they spell it out again:
Terrorist states are seeking new-clear weapons without delay . . . he wants to meet them without preconditions.
I don't want to make too much of this, for all of us have accents, whether we know it or not. My family back in the Ozarks certainly has a strong one. My sainted maternal grandmother, for example, always pronounced "Batesville" as "Batchville," and I used to pronounce "wash" as "warsh" (and even spelled it that way). Nonstandard accents don't offer proof of either ignorance or stupidity.

But what the quasi-phonetic spelling "new-clear" does reveal is the degree of Republican concern about crafting the right Palin image. She can't appear to be some country bumpkin who doesn't even speak proper English, so the speechwriters will make sure that she makes sure to say things the right way. On that point, she succeeded, for I listened pretty carefully to her speech and didn't hear any "nu-kyu-lur."

The speech, as I noted, was competent. Palin didn't stumble, and she didn't appear overwhelmed to be standing exactly in the center of national attention. But from what I saw of her performance, she doesn't compare to Barack Obama or Bill Clinton in their ability to hold an audience spellbound. Nor does she merit comparison with good speakers like Hillary Clinton or Margaret Thatcher. She still has room for improvement. The cheers that she received were genuine, of course, and enthusiastic, for she said the right things for a Republican vice-presidential candidate to say -- raising doubts about Obama, offering assurances about McCain -- and she didn't blow her chance by giving a poor performance. But it wasn't masterful.

Now comes the hard part. The campaign trail, which will offer plenty of opportunity for proving herself . . . or proving herself inadequate.

We'll see.

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At 9:40 AM, Blogger Malcolm Pollack said...

Hi Jeffery,

Thanks for the link.

I must say that I don't see the difference between "nucular" and "nuclear" as a matter of accent at all. Accents differ in how the mouth is shaped for the pronunciation of vowels, not the order of phonemes in a word. Saying "nucular" for "nuclear" is on a par with saying "ax" for "ask": a mark of ignorance and unsophistication, whether it is actually due to ignorance and unsophistication or is a deliberate and provocative affectation. In either case, such flamboyant and unrepentant bumpkinhood is hardly appropriate in a candidate for such high office; it certainly does not make a particularly civilized impression to the rest of the world if our leaders cannot even speak their own native language as well as an average European grade-school student.

At 10:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A note on "nucular"

"American Heritage Dictionary:

"The pronunciation (noo'kyə-lər), which is generally considered incorrect, is an example of how a familiar phonological pattern can influence an unfamiliar one … [since] much more common is the similar sequence (-kyə-lər), which occurs in words like particular, circular, spectacular, and in many scientific words like molecular, ocular, and vascular."


Usage by politicians

U.S. presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush have all used this pronunciation.[5][6][7]"

My comment; Since it's more of a regional pronunciation (i.e., Midwest & South Central U.S.), my guess is that it does fall more to accent than, "a mark of ignorance and unsophistication." How many in New England (e.g. Mass.) say "drawr," etc.?

And an observation; People mock Bush for it, but not when Clinton did. Hmmm.

At 11:03 AM, Blogger Hathor said...

Obama speech doesn't suggest he's found himself, but does say how he will approach certain issues.

At 11:40 AM, Blogger Malcolm Pollack said...

Hi Richardson,

I must man the ramparts here.

That Bill Clinton et al. failed to shed this vestige of their bumpkinhood is no sanction for such careless use of language. The word is "nuclear".

This is not a matter of accent, and I don't relish the prospect of yet another American leader presenting our splendid mother tongue as some sort of backwoods pidgin. If we would like the rest of the world to continue to think of us as uncultured yokels, and are worried that we aren't getting the job done with our reality shows, monster-truck pulls, and creationist science curricula, this will be a fine way to keep the tradition alive. When Danish taxi drivers speak English better than our own presidents (and they do), we have a problem.

At 3:51 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Malcolm and Richardson, thanks for the views on linguistics. Perhaps I should have said "dialect" rather than "accent."

One of my maternal uncles -- a highly intelligent and sophisticated man who has an M.A. in history from the University of Pennsylvania, a law degree from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, and who passed the bar exam in California back in the early 1960s -- has lived in California for nearly 50 years but has never stopped speaking like the old Ozark folks of my childhood.

Some people just can't shed a dialect so easily.

But I've got to admit . . . personally, I can't stand "nu-kyu-lur." Also "lie-berry."

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:53 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Hathor, thanks. I always look forward to hearing Obama speak because I think that he's a gifted orator.

I may find myself in disagreement with him, but I appreciate his excellence as a speaker.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dialect I can agree with.

But not snobbery.

At 7:36 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Richardson, you and Malcolm might agree on a lot else.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hain't no expurt on langwage, but I did 'preciate Miz Palin's sturrin' up the constituants of the 'Publican consarativs, 'specully the wimmin.
She has a short, but compelling resume, and should help McCain during the remaining campaign.
How she will do in riding out the storm from the midia will be interesting, and also the debates should be worthy of note.

At 10:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did I actually mis-spell media?
Dadburn....& 'scuze me!

At 1:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Just an observation on why Bush seems to be mocked more frequently than Clinton was due to their individual dialects.

Bush is far more dependable.

I admit to bumpkinhood myself so that should diffuse any accusations of snobbery. And since I am a bumpkin the link likely won't work either. Go to, search for "The Complete Bushisms".


At 3:57 AM, Blogger Malcolm Pollack said...

Hi Richardson,

I suppose I should cop to the charge of snobbery; indeed I do resist the notion that all forms and expressions of culture are of equal worth. I would, for example, rank Chopin's nocturnes, or the mid-60's output of the Miles Davis Quintet, as being greater contributions to civilization than Who Let The Dogs Out or Achy Breaky Heart, and Paradise Lost as bringing more to the party than Baywatch.

Am I being greedy, though, to imagine that the person we elect to hold the highest office in the land, to lead the free world, and to represent us all in the community of nations, ought to be a competent speaker of at least one language?

For that matter, shouldn't we be just a bit elitist when choosing a president? Don't we want, rather than just a representative regular Joe, someone of above-average intelligence, education, understanding, worldiness, and insight? Is it too much to ask that the foremost player upon the world stage display a measure of cultural sophistication?

At 4:34 AM, Blogger Kate Marie said...


You seem to be conflating several categories that, I think, should remain distinct. Much as I, too, may cringe at the way Jimmy Carter or George W. Bush pronounce the word "nuclear," I don't ultimately think it's a reliable or decisive proxy for a person's level of culture or intelligence.

Certainly all expressions of culture are *not* of equal worth, but I don't think it's been proven that how one pronounces the word nuclear is an expression of culture in the way that either Chopin's nocturnes or Achy Breaky Heart are.

No, I don't think that we necessarily need someone of above average intelligence or education as President. As has been pointed out by others in the blogosphere, Nixon was probably smarter than Reagan and Clinton was probably smarter than FDR. "Smart and well-educated" doesn't equal good or wise. "Smart and well-educated" may indeed accompany good and wise, but it is neither a prerequisite for the latter qualities nor an indication of the likelihood of the presence of the latter qualities.

At 5:21 AM, Blogger Malcolm Pollack said...

Hi Kate,

Yes, I suppose that, in principle, one might be intelligent and cultured and still say things like "nucular" and "lie-berry", though I should think that some care with the way one expresses oneself is usually a mark of a cultured person. At any rate, such sloppiness with language makes a dismal impression on others, and I for one would prefer not to cringe when I hear our leaders speak.

I quite disagree with you about wanting someone of above-average intelligence and education as president. The job is incomparably complex and demanding (more so now than ever), and the stakes immeasurably high. Intelligence (the ability to learn quickly, and to see essential similarities between seemingly unconnected facts) and education (giving one a store of cultural and historical knowledge to draw upon when making difficult decisions) may make all the difference between effective statesmanship and catastrophic blundering.

Finally, it goes without saying, I would have thought, that we want our leaders to be good and wise.

At 5:51 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Just "good and wise"? What's wrong with "bad and stupid"? These latter two are unacknowledged virtues. "Bad," admittedly, gets some respect: "That's baaad!" But "stupid"? Nobody respects that.

This has got to change...

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 6:11 AM, Blogger Kate Marie said...

You're right, Jeffery. Stupid gets no respect. Can't we institute some new slang term in order to raise its profile -- something along the lines of how "wicked" functions in the Boston area, like "That's a stupid brilliant idea!" or "That was a stupid good movie!"? Ummmm, then again, maybe not.

Malcolm, if by "educated" you mean "having a store of cultural and historical knowledge to draw upon when making difficult decisions," I would agree with you that that's important in a president. I would not make the mistake, however, of assuming that the impressiveness of someone's resume indicates the breadth or depth of their education -- especially, perhaps, in America.

At 6:15 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

KM, we could try shortening the term, e.g., "Wow, that's really stu!"

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I sense a mountain/molehill issue here. Like Kate Marie, I don't like the pronunciation, but you're obviously placing too much weight on it in your estimation of intelligence. Besides, everyone knows phrenology is a much more precise indicator.

At 6:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Abraham Lincoln used terms such as "Mister Cheerman," and other terms that were ridiculed by his contemporaries, and Andrew Jackson was noted for being a poor speller, but they were capable presidents.
I agree that a solid education is important, along with a knowledge of the issues, a clear and discerning intellect.
I hate mis-spelled words, but my clumsy fingers let me down in my blogging. I would prefer proper diction and pronunciation myself.
There needs to be a balance of education and wisdom in the leaders of our nation. Where we draw the line is debatable, as this blog suggests.
But I ain't no scholar, as anyone can tell.

At 6:58 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I like phrenology. It's really stu!

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 7:00 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Dang, Uncle Cran, you got between me and the object of my humor.

Obviously, I was away from the "publish your comment" button too long.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 10:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I realize that this may be taken by some to be "off topic" but I noticed that Bush tells us now that he is "taking the advice of his Generals seriously."

I do not take issue with the "need" to take down Iraq because any nitwit would have known that al-Q obviously was in Saddam's hip pocket but:

Did he, in 2002 and early 2003, take the advice of Generals Shalikashvili, Shinseki, heck even Zinni?

But the leader of the free world has bigger issues on his plate, and states so emphatically and clearly:

"There is some who say that perhaps freedom is not universal. Maybe it's only Western people that can self-govern. Maybe it's only, you know, white-guy Methodists who are capable of self-government. I reject that notion."—London, June 16, 2008"

"I think it was in the Rose Garden where I issued this brilliant statement: If I had a magic wand —but the president doesn't have a magic wand. You just can't say, 'low gas.' "—Washington D.C., July 15, 2008"

"I'll be long gone before some smart person ever figures out what happened inside this Oval Office."—Washington, D.C., May 12, 2008"

I now feel much better about the future, thanks in part to the wise words of G.W. Bush. (I guess.)

See Malcolm, it does not take a person with super-duper language skills necessarily to lead the free world to... uh, where is it we're going?


At 12:01 PM, Blogger Malcolm Pollack said...

Kate, that was indeed what I meant by "education". Education can be got in many ways, and its mark is not a class ring or an Ivy League sheepskin, but a complex and richly furnished mind.

Richardson, if you will forgive me a little metaphor-mangling here, I quite agree that the pronunciation of a single word is surely, in some cases, a molehill. In others, though, it is something more like the tiny tip of a very dangerous iceberg.

At 4:20 PM, Blogger Kate Marie said...



At 5:34 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Well, I'm glad that we all still love each other . . . just like some tight-knit, nucular family.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is an element of self-discovery in "Audacity...". But the book is very well stage-managed, so the discoveries never seem uncovered. If anything, there is a lack of this element in the book. I kept waiting for the road to Damascus moment that would show Obama to be a man of unusual insight. Not so. And surprisingly not so when it came to the issue of race. Baldwin Obama ain't.

At 5:56 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I've read reviews to the effect that Audacity is a lesser, more political work than Dreams, but I really ought to read it myself.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:40 AM, Blogger Conservative in Virginia said...

Prof, since you read Obama's book, I would very much like your opinion on this article: Who Wrote Dreams From My Father?

I don't suppose you've "Fugitive Days," have you?

At 2:59 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I don't have Fugitive Days. If Ayers ghost-wrote some of Obama's memoir, I'd be greatly disappointed -- for being misled and for being misled through the literary skills of Mr. Ayers.

But even setting the 'Obama' book aside, I've always experienced Obama as an extremely intelligent man who has a gift for language. Some of his speeches have been brilliant, and I had the impression that he was speaking his own thoughts (regardless whether or not I agreed with those thoughts).

I also don't agree that a bad poem is evidence of an inability to write (though it would be consistent with being a bad writer). I've written some pretty bad poems, but I think that I can also write well enough.

In short, I'd need some hard evidence . . . but the article has raised some questions.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:54 AM, Blogger Conservative in Virginia said...

Thanks for your thoughts.

The only "speech" I trust from politicians are off-the-cuff remarks. They have speech writers for everything else.

I once was at a party where Ted Kennedy made a brief appearance. He couldn't string together 10 words into a sentence. He didn't sound anything like he does when he's reading statements on the floor of the Senate.

At 4:34 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

My wife said the same thing about politicians' speeches.

But I thought of something else. At least a couple of conservative pundits -- I recall David Brooks -- have written of interviewing Obama privately and of being very impressed with his intelligence, so I think that he's the real thing.

But who is he, really? I find him a bit perplexing. I think the reason may be because he has a conservative temperament but also has, or has gone through, a radical identity, which may reflect the tenor of how he was educated in the late seventies, early eighties but also his search for an African-American identity.

He seems to have moved toward the center, politically, but I don't know how much is conviction and how much convenience.

Jeffery Hodges

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