Communication Breakdown

The New York Times today details an obvious but crucial difference between Bill and Hillary. While Mrs. Clinton can, like her husband, "work a room, remembering names and personal details.dazzling acquaintances along the way," as well as possessing the ability to "master arcane details of public policy, wowing experts in several fields," she just can’t hold a candle to Bubba when it comes to public speaking.

The difference was painfully apparent for the world (and the Democratic Party) to see at Coretta Scott King’s funeral last week, when Billary made a rare public appearance together.

When the first black president took the stage, the crowd burst into boisterous applause and a standing ovation, and his off-the-cuff address had, noted The Times, "the mellifluence of a preacher." But when it was Hillary’s turn to remember Mrs. King, the room became "more subdued, as she offered more formal remarks, in her characteristically deliberate and measured style."

If Mrs. Clinton expected a warmer, perhaps more grateful response from the largely black audience for comparing Republicans to plantation owners a couple weeks earlier, it didn’t happen.

Former New York Governor and gifted orator Mario Cuomo offered some advice to Hillary: "She is going to have to learn to bite her lip," just like the former president is famous for doing during emotional high points in his speeches. "She doesn’t have the theatrical instinct that he has," added Mr. Cuomo. "She is more a Methodist, and he is more theatrical."

Ted Sorensen, speechwriter for another prominent Democratic speaker, President John F. Kennedy, made a classical analogy between Mr. and Mrs. Clinton’s abilities. He compared the two to Cicero and Demosthenes, and noted how it was once said that when Cicero spoke, the crowds declared, "How well he spoke," but when Demosthenes spoke, the crowds exclaimed, "Let us march!" Said Sorensen: "I think it applies here, Bill being the one for whom they say, ‘Let us march!’ I think Bill Clinton delivers inspiring addresses. Hillary is more likely to deliver learned lectures."

Many Democrats would agree with this analogy, and are concerned that Hillary’s wonky manner of speaking will not effectively rally the electorate in 2008. The Times did not report that when Hillary does try to convey passion at the podium, it often comes across as contrived at best, and at worst she appears spiteful or mean, as RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman recently pointed out.