Speeches and Debates
for Dozens . . . and Millions
The primaries: "They tell whether a candidate can frame a message and present it effectively in both speeches and ads to a variety of constituencies."
-- David Broder, Washington Post, April 27, 1992
During the 1952 presidential primaries, Senator Robert A. Taft spoke in Brookline, Massachusetts. The author and her father went to hear him. Though Taft's words are long forgotten, the event is not. It was exciting just to be in the presence of someone who might be the future president. Presidential candidates need to capture the attention of the voters, and speech making is one of the traditional ways they accomplish this. They also use the occasion to lay out their vision of the future under their presidency.
Ever since the Greek polis there has been a close relationship between democratic politics and public speaking. In a democracy, those who lead must continually communicate with the public, in a circular process of interaction, in order to govern successfully. Speeches are one of the main ways to do that. The great English historian Macaulay said that "Parliamentary government is government by speaking" ( June 1859, Harper's, in Baker, June 8, 1996). Even in the age of television, the speeches of political leaders continue to occupy a major place in public life, though presented in truncated form through summaries by political reporters ( Kendall, 1993). This chapter will explore the nature of public speaking and debate in the presidential primaries from 1912 to 1992, noting especially any qualities distinctive to primaries, and the changes over time.