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Women At The Podium
Think Hillary can win the debate? Think again…
[Doug Gamble] 3/2/06

A recent story in The New York Times worried that, when it comes to public speaking, New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton is no match for her husband, former President Bill Clinton.

Citing her appearance alongside Bill at the Coretta Scott King funeral, the story said, “To her critics and admirers, the moment was a reminder that for all her skills as a politician, Mrs. Clinton is not known for her ability to move people with the power of her oratory, something that could prove a liability should she run for the presidency in 2008.” (Note to The NYT: She’s running.)

Doug Gamble

Doug Gamble is a former writer for President Ronald Reagan and resides in Carmel. [go to Gamble index]

If there’s one thing Republicans would concede it’s that Bill is an effective speaker, and if there’s one thing Democrats would concede it’s that Hillary isn’t. The only thing worse than her flat, emotionless podium style is when she tries to fake passion by launching her voice into a shrill shriek that makes fingernails on a blackboard sound good by comparison.

Mrs. Clinton makes a mistake common among poor speakers, adjusting the volume of her voice to the size of the venue in which she’s speaking. She doesn’t seem to understand that, since the invention of the microphone, this is unnecessary. Her husband, on the other hand, speaks in the same intimate, conversational, one-on-one tone whether he’s in a small room or a huge auditorium.

Mrs. Clinton’s grating style sets the stage for one of the great all-time shriek fests when she makes her speech accepting her party’s nomination for president at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. And when she’s not shrieking she’s being school marmish. If Bill inspired his followers, Hillary lectures hers

But here’s where I’m going to get myself into the same kind of trouble as Larry Summers who was forced to resign as president of Harvard University for suggesting that women are not as proficient as men in math and science. I believe that Hillary is being held to an unfair standard because women, generally, are not as good at public speaking as men are.

While acknowledging that great oratory in the Winston Churchill tradition is a lost art regardless of gender, I can think of no women in American public life who can match the speechmaking skills of a Ronald Reagan, a Bill Clinton or a Barack Obama, to name only three. And when it comes to arousing an audience is there, or has there ever been, a female JFK or Martin Luther King?

Two women who have traditionally been referred to as good speakers are former Texas Governor Ann Richards and North Carolina Senator Elizabeth Dole. But Richards often lapses into shrillness and Dole, who long ago adopted the gimmick of eschewing a podium to roam the room with a hand-held microphone, can come across like a time share salesperson trying to talk you into a piece of property. She’s so polished she seems insincere.

Men like those mentioned above are associated with speeches that inspire, while many women give speeches that merely inform. When it comes to getting elected to political office, the former is more valuable. Women speakers also tend to use less humor in their presentations, especially self-deprecating humor, forsaking a powerful means to win over an audience.

But beyond all of that there is one factor that simply cannot be avoided: Men’s voices at the podium are usually superior and easier to take. Not only, by nature of their depth, are they less prone to shrillness and more authoritative, important in politics, but male speakers in general are less likely to lapse into sing-song or monotone.

Perhaps the answer to the question, “When will Americans elect a woman president?” can be answered with another question: When will a female candidate for president be able to deliver as good a speech as her male opponent? -one-

California-based Doug Gamble contributed speech material to Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush, writes occasional opinion columns for the Orange County Register and is a senior contributor totheOneRepublic /

Copyright 2006 Doug Gamble




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