With presidential candidates appearing on TV day after day, making speeches at rallies and shaking hands with crowds of supporters, you might assume that running for our nation's highest office has become a well- rehearsed, routine procedure. Based on recent experience, I can truthfully offer this advice: Think again, pal.
I agreed to help my local public TV station with their latest pledge drive, and have been exhorting viewers to join up with my unique blend of wit, authority, and personal magnetism. So far I've managed to coax in a respectable number of phone calls, but that's not my biggest concern.
Maintaining a brisk, energetic pace for an entire evening is a much more significant achievement.
Successful oration does not happen automatically. Speaking without notes makes the task more daunting. But I've never been shy around microphones, and my only serious fault when the "on-air" light flashes is a tendency to emulate the galvanizing intensity of radio legend Herb Morrison as he described the flaming demise of the Hindenburg.
By a coincidence of scheduling, my vocal obligations have also included reading stories to several classes at my daughter's school to help commemorate the birthday of Dr. Seuss, and helping the Parent Teacher Organization raise funds by serving as emcee at their silent auction. As each new threshold was crossed, I began to appreciate the determined effort required of all travelers on the road to political success. And I'm not sure I could maintain their pace.
Imagine what it would be like to make three or four speeches in a single day, greet hundreds of strangers with a handshake and a cheery word of thanks, be interviewed by local reporters asking the same questions you've already answered 50 times, and then get ready to do it all over again tomorrow in a different city. It's a regimen that would challenge any professional athlete. I would be tempted to record a simple monologue in advance and just lip-sync along with the tape at smaller venues.
Fortunately for me, there were lengthy stretches of nonverbal activity in between my bouts of public pontificating. During part of that time, I pursued and caught Dakota, one of the dogs along our street who periodically escapes from her yard. This time a gate had been left open by a tree-trimming crew. It's fun to corral Dakota because she makes the chase into a little game, and her grateful owners always reward me with candy. After Eight thin mints are now my basic fee for canine control.
I didn't shout at Dakota when I spotted her running loose because A) It doesn't do any good, and B) I was trying to give my rhetorical skills some quiet time. That's also when I began to realize how tough it must be to maintain a robust, dynamic voice of leadership during the weeks and months leading up to November. Friends often tell me I have political potential.
In my own neighborhood, it seems certain that I could be elected dogcatcher.
But do I have the vocal fortitude? Maybe I could just slide by with a whispering campaign.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society