Posted by Rojas @ 5:38 pm on August 28th 2008

Favreau’s moment

As a man who analyzes rhetoric for a living, I consider Jon Favreau’s story to be one of the most intriguing of the 2008 campaign.

By most accounts, this very young man of little prior distinction came into his job as Obama’s chief speechwriter almost by accident. Lucky accident for Obama. Make no mistake, Obama would make a lot of speechwriters sound good; still, it has been consistently impossible to listen to Obama’s most notable speeches on the campaign trail and not be amazed by how precisely the rhythm of the language is calibrated to Obama’s skill set. Anyone can dig up an anecdote or an example, but for Obama, as for most speakers, it’s the style in which the story is told that makes it stick in the mind.

Bad speechwriters think that there is one correct way to craft a speech. Good speechwriters recognize that speeches have to be crafted for the individual speaker’s way of using language. Great speechwriters develop a special synchronicity with their patron and find ways to take his or her voice to a higher level. Based on all the evidence, Jon Favreau is a great speechwriter.

The media is going to go berserk with praise over Obama’s speech tonight unless he does something like eat his own leg or pisses his pants. But I don’t know that the viewing public is necessarily going to follow their lead. Expectations for Obama as an orator have been jacked into the stratosphere by the media machine, with some justification. The DNC has compounded those expectations by surrounding their man with 70,000 screaming fans and dropping him onto the set of a Greek temple. Under these circumstances, a speech of average quality for a Presidential nominee would be something of a disaster.

There have already been signs that the effectiveness of Favreau’s formula is beginning to fade–Obama’s struggles in the late primaries, for instance, and his stagnation in the national polls despite frequent visibility in high-profile speaking situations. Which puts the man–young and inexperienced as he is–in one hell of a spot. He’s got to find some kind of new mojo, a new angle to attack from in order to turn the general tide of the campaign. He’s got to be more policy-heavy in his approach than he’s ever been before, and he has to do it in the service of a speaker who’s not at his best when talking policy. And he’s not going to get a dry run at it. The one and only chance he’ll get to make it fly is going to be the single most watched speech of the modern political era.

For my money, Favreau is already the unsung hero of the Obama movement. Tonight, he has the chance to become a demigod among speech junkies like myself. The expectations are almost impossible to meet and the stakes could not be higher. He’ll get no credit for rising to the occasion and all the blame if he doesn’t.

Does he have it in him?

1 Comment »

  1. As opposed to the other recent DNC events, I actually intend to watch this speech. I hope to be impressed.

    Comment by Cameron — 8/28/2008 @ 8:12 pm

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