Why does the president make speeches instead of write essays for us to read, ponder, and question? by Tony Garcia
Answer by Tony Garcia:
In years past, the popular medium was print: the newspaper and magazines. A president would take to pencil and paper then address sessions of Congress and the Senate, with speeches later printed for consumption by the nation—at least, for those who could read.
Technology brought us radio, and with that, what was written could be read aloud and heard by millions glued to the new medium. Literacy was now optional, while a mellifluous voice, combined with some well-written prose, promised rapt attention.
For those who worked in offices, the water cooler provided a way station for informal debate on the previous night’s presidential address. The same held true for cramped subway cars and taxis with meddlesome drivers.
Television ushered in the age of telegenics; a pleasing appearance guaranteed a large audience. The symbiotic relationship of the new medium to its viewers influenced how the speech was perceived, lending it personality as well as gravitas.
Now we have mobile media which, in large part, has subsumed print and radio as the deliverer of important news. The public still has an appetite for their president’s words, just in shorter duration. The demands on one’s time—online gaming, gambling, texting, sexting, and even the occasional phone call—limit the number of free minutes available for side issues like presidential addresses and warnings of impending doom.
The advent of telecommuting has pretty much mothballed water cooler debate. One may send instant messages to a colleague, but it doesn’t have the visceral appeal of, say, a smack in the face for expressing a contrary opinion.
Most presidents are not comedians, at least not intentionally. They must rely on pundits who are not only well-versed in geopolitics, the economy and climatology, but who can also script a bon mot or incisive jab at one’s political opponents in five words or less.
Thus a presidential speech, like the medium through which it is delivered, has evolved from a forum to educate and inform the public, to that of a stand-up routine that has morphed into a meltdown.