Why You Need a Grass Roots Stump Speech ...
And What You Need To Say
Disclaimer: Off and on, I have been a professional political speech writer for going on 40 years. I started by writing economic development speeches for two sitting South Carolina governors, one of whom - the first Republican Governor since reconstruction - later became a cabinet secretary for President Reagan. I have also taught speech-writing at two state universities, in Tennessee and Nevada, and written non-political speeches for other clients.
This experience doesn't make me an expert, but I do want you to know the basis for what I have to say. Then, Caveat Lector - let the reader beware.
Introduction: Face-to-face retail political campaigning has changed dramatically over the past few decades, primarily due to a variety of new technological advancements. With this change has come a change in the traditional stump speech. In this blog, I'll look first at the technology changes that are rewriting the way local "retail" politics are done, then I'll look at the kinds of stump speeches you're likely to encounter, and what you need to say.
But first, why "stump speech?" Back in the day (Mister Lincoln's day), for a candidate to be heard and seen by a crowd, he had to step up on something to put him (in those days, never "her") head and shoulders above the crowd. The two most common ways were the "soapbox" and the tree stump. For some reason, the phrases have come down to us with "soapbox" being someone expressing (usually) an unpopular idea, while the "stump" is where politicians speak to us. Even with today's technology, there is a need for a good stump speech, but today's speech is far different from the ones given in Lincoln's day.
Technology: A variety of technological factors have changed the face of retail politics. These include:
* Cable News and the 24/7 national news cycle
* Cell phone cameras and video cameras
* The Internet and it's global 24/7 reach, making every blogger a news reporter
As Howard Dean learned to his eternal regret, there are no "closed rooms" and no "private meetings." His "scream" in Iowa was perfectly acceptable political theater for a man who's just lost a primary - but not the election - and who was rallying the faithful to continue the fight. But that "perfectly acceptable" one-on-small-group behavior sent a very different message to the cable and talk-radio audiences.
The President learned that there are no closed rooms - even when the rooms are supposed to be secure - when his "they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion" comment was recorded on a cell phone by a major contributor and wound up leaked to the media. That wasn't a matter of context, but of the idea that no room is a closed room.
Even President Reagan learned this earlier, when he joked about launching a nuclear strike against the Soviet Union over an open mike that he thought was closed. As a former radio announcer, he should have known better.
The point - with today's pervasive technology, every cell phone is a network TV camera, and every blogger is Walter Cronkite. So, there are no private, smoke-filled rooms where a candidate can say things he or she doesn't want heard.
Example: Early in the 2008 electoral season, then-candidate Obama told a small audience (including a camera) that "Look, I got two daughters - nine years old and six years old. I am going to teach them first about values and morals, but if they make a mistake, I don't want them punished with a baby."
With that one sentence, Obama became the first national candidate to endorse abortion-on-demand as a form of birth control, going so far as to advocate aborting his own grandchildren, just so his daughters wouldn't be "punished with a baby." However, this was said on a rainy, cold Saturday and it was not picked up on. After three months of trying, I managed to "break" this story on American Thinker, then leveraged this article into an appearance on Neil Cavuto (Fox Business) and Imus and dozens of other radio, print and Internet media. Fox then took the story national.
This brief war story is not about me, however - instead, it's about how one person with access to the Internet can uncover a "quiet" story, then make it public ... and national. No candidate who opens his or her mouth is free from being exposed.
The moral of the story? Hidden open microphones have killed more candidacies then have financial or sexual scandals.
Every candidate must have a stump speech, memorized (it also helps to have an elevator pitch, but that, too, is a topic for a future blog), and every candidate be very careful about deviating from their own persona message.
So, to the stump speech. In today's MTV world, the opportunity to speak for more than three to five minutes are rare - below the level of Governor, Senator or Congressman, most candidate events seem to include a great many candidates, and each candidate has from 90 seconds to five minutes to make their cases. Candidates are batched because it's become ever more difficult for a single candidate to attract audiences large enough to be worthwhile.
Here's what you need:
1. A statement of "why" - Why do YOU want to be an elected official? That is the single and most important statement you can make. Be honest, and speak with integrity. In the aftermath of the Tea Party, the public (not to mention the media) has become much more sophisticated in spotting phonies, sycophants and liars. With the likes of Obama, Clinton, Pelosi and Reid out there talking every day, aware citizens get a daily course in dishonesty.
2. A statement of "who" - Who are YOU and why does being you qualifies you for the job? "Honest Abe" Lincoln was known as the "Rail Splitter" - it symbolized his "up-from-the-bottom" career in a way that "I'm a successful lawyer" would never do. Find something true and verifiable about you and your life that qualifies you. This is not the place for a long list - but for from one to three brief and illustrative things about you that make you qualified for the post.
3. A statement of "what" - What do YOU want to accomplish when you are elected. Again, this isn't a laundry list - pick one to three (depending on stump length) issues you plan to advocate or oppose once you're in office. This will give listeners a self-interested reason to support you - or oppose you. This is the "risk" question, because every issue has supporters and opponents.
4. A statement of "why me" - this is your wrap-up, your close - this is (in essence) your "elevator pitch," the brief 30-90 second statement in which you make your case for why YOU, distinctively, should get the listener's vote. Pull from the first three answers elements that help you make your case. This means, in practical terms, that you should start by writing the "why me" part of the speech, then use that to define the first three items.
A standard short stump speech doesn't need any more.
However, the basic stump speech should be adapted for specific groups. It should also be adapted if the candidate is under fire for some "gotcha" from the other side, be the attack from a fellow party member in a primary, or from the guy from the other party in a general election.
But those kinds of distinctive modifications don't work with a "one-size-fits-all" blog like this, but if you have any specific questions, I'd be glad to offer you my insights - you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.