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August 20, 2000 - Al Gore/Style - 2002-02-16

INTRO: Earlier this month, Wordmasters Avi Arditti and Rosanne Skirble talked with a political rhetoric expert about the speaking style of George W. Bush, the Republican presidential nominee. This week they focus on his Democratic opponent, Vice President Al Gore.

AA: With elections less than three months away, many American voters seem more interested not in what a candidate says, but in how he or she says it.

RS: Wayne Fields at Washington University in St. Louis says Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore is suffering from criticism of his style.


FIELDS: "Remarks about whether he speaks fast enough or whether he's too wooden. But on the other hand, all you hear about Bush that's particularly positive is that he has an easy way with people, that he's Clintonesque in a way in his demeanor."

RS: "So we're not talking about content yet, people are more focused on what our candidates look like."

AA: "And sound like."

FIELDS: "Exactly, which is going to be very frustrating for Gore -- one, because people know what he looks and sounds like, and secondly because from the start everybody has suggested that Gore's strength over Bush would be his control of the issues, his ability to speak to content convincingly and knowledgeably."

RS: "So it will be very interesting to watch these candidates face-to-face when we get into the debates."

FIELDS: "Exactly, that is the time when issues do get sharpened. There's still a lot of attention to style, there's still a lot of attention to audiences' comfort level with the candidates, how much they like them. But at the same time that's the moment where [voters] begin to get a clearer sense of how well they understand issues, how clearly prepared they are for the wide range of responsibilities that go with the presidency."

AA: "This past Sunday, the New York Times said on its editorial page that 'it's a quirk of Mister Gore's speaking style that the more right he is, the more he irritates people.' Is that so?"

FIELDS: "[laughing] It's often the case, I think. We're not terribly fond of people just because they're right, especially if the news is complicated or bad. I think that some of it is just familiarity at this point, that people sort of know Gore and sort of don't know Gore in that ambiguous way that the country understands its vice presidents. They understand that he has been an active vice president, they understand that he knows a lot about what the job entails and that he's taken significant responsibilities in this administration all the way along. By the same token, there is always this hunger after eight years for new faces, for new personalities, new amusements."

AA: Wayne Fields is director of American Culture Studies and an English professor at Washington University in St. Louis. He credits Al Gore with trying to sound more relaxed and connecting more with his audiences.

RS: Still, when it comes to political rhetoric, Professor Fields says, the vice president stands in contrast to the man he hopes to replace, Bill Clinton.


"Much, much more businesslike, much more formal. When he tries to relax, it gets maudlin, sentimental. When he tries to act like Clinton it comes across as forced. That is a part of the rhetorical package."

RS: Between now and November, if you find yourself stumped by any of the political rhetoric you hear coming out of the campaign, we might be able to answer your question on the air.

AA: We leave you with some of Al Gore's acceptance speech -- which he said he wrote himself -- delivered Thursday night at the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles.

RS: You judge the style. With Avi Arditti, I'm Rosanne Skirble.


"We're entering a new time. We're electing a new president. And I stand here tonight as my own man. And I want you to know me for who I truly am. ... I was an Army reporter in Vietnam. When I was there I didn't do the most or run the gravest danger, but I was proud to wear my country's uniform. ... At a time when there is more computer power in a Palm Pilot than in the spaceship that took Neil Armstrong to the moon, we will offer all our people lifelong learning and new skills for the higher-paying jobs of the future. ... I know my own imperfections. For example, I know that sometimes people say I'm too serious, that I talk too much substance and policy. Maybe I've done that tonight. But the presidency (audience: "Nooooo!") -- but the presidency is more than a popularity contest, it's a day-by- day fight for people. ... If you entrust me with the presidency, I know I won't be the most exciting politician. But I pledge to you tonight, I will work for you every day, and I will never let you down. (applause)"