The cover image for both posts in this series are two variations for a Nordic Flag design that’s meant to represent the world. I used blue, green and white because they’re the three colors of our planet as seen from space. The circle with a cross is the astrological symbol for Earth.
These are some mini-analyses of campaign stump speeches which I wrote in 2016. (I left them as-is, so they will refer to that year in the present tense.) During that election, when I still had hope for this country, I tried to learn as much about our heritage as I could. I wanted to know how on Earth we got to the point where Trump was a viable candidate. I also wanted to be informed about political science and history in case this knowledge could help my peers and possible future political allies. I read about every Presidential election, each candidate including significant third parties plus independents, and watched all the debates/speeches I could find. I saw the general election, primary and third party debates. I saw the convention, inaugural, farewell and VP convention speeches. And, for the candidates I thought were particularly interesting or sympathetic, I tracked down stump speeches.
I originally wrote reactions to at least one campaign trail speech for every left-wing candidate plus any right-wing candidates who had some kind of crossover appeal for me. However, I have opted not to post many of them to theCarbonFreeze because I’m not happy with what I wrote in hindsight and life’s too short to slog through all of those speeches again. I could do something like that in 2016 when I thought we were about to see a positive shakeup of the status quo. Now, I’m just depressed and exhausted with all things US politics. So anyway, these are the speech reactions I felt were worthy of sharing.
The Speech (1964)
This speech is considered the call to arms for American right-wingers everywhere. Given on behalf of Goldwater’s candidacy in ’64, it was an unapologetic defense of fiscal conservatism and unregulated capitalism. There has arguably never been an equivalent leftist speech in modern US history. I would say McGovern’s “Come Home America” comes close, but admittedly it’s less fiery and less laser-focused.
I have to admit listening to Reagan go on and on about the over-taxation and lack of a balanced budget through the last 30 odd years was a powerful, eye opening moment even for someone like me, who thinks government can be a force for good in ideal circumstances. The irony is that during his own presidency, Reagan would not balance the budget, and the later Republican George W Bush would be responsible for our worst increase in the debt ever, and with nothing positive to show for it. The paleoconservative ideology is not inherently bad (I only personally despise social conservatism) but its supposed proponents, including Reagan and on to the contemporary GOP, have not actually adhered to it. Paleoconservatism is, in fact, as dead as paleoliberalism. What has replaced them are neoliberalism and neoconservatism. Both parties practice both on some level, and despite their names they are not mutually exclusive. Reagan largely introduced neoliberalism to the US during his tenure, Clinton adopted it into the Democratic Party as his “third way” economics.
Libertarians/fiscal conservatives who value a balanced budget and government restraint should be just as outraged at our current monstrosity of a government as Socialists and progressives. In fact, many are. I’ve noticed listening to many differently aligned people, both online and in-person that we both complain about largely the same issues in government. It’s just that both sides blame the other for the same issues. The problem is people are stuck in this right-left, republican-democrat false dichotomy when the true political spectrum is far more complicated than that, and those at the top of both parties largely cater to the same monied elites and special interests. If we ever want to break free and have a more productive government, we need people to be more informed on the subject in the first place.
Perhaps it’s because I wasn’t there, but I do not understand the rampant commie fear that gripped the nation from the ’30s through the present day. I mean, calling them the most dangerous challenge mankind has ever faced? Really? Not disease, or hunger, or man’s inhumanity to man, but an alternate economic model? For the wealthy elites I’m sure it’s their most dangerous challenge ever. For average Americans it’s another worldview we could at least look at and learn from even if it’s something we ultimately decide we’d rather not pursue. Part of a healthy democracy is having an open-minded and inclusive debate on the issues. When ideologies are banned outright and the people supporting them are labelled enemies of the State, sub-human, monsters…it sets the path of our democracy into a skewed and authoritarian direction. I would actually argue that the thought-policing America took via McCarthyism, the Red Scare and the War on Drugs (which was enacted by Nixon against the recommendations of his advisers so as to criminalize minorities and the New Left) are far worthier of the title “the Greatest Challenge we have ever faced.” Even Dewey, the Republican nominee not 20 years prior, thought Communists deserved to participate in government, that it would be more effective to prove capitalism is better than shut out discussion.
The irony is that in the present day, America, rather than being the sanctuary which people escape to that Reagan goes on to describe, has now become a hellish dog-eat-dog, broken infrastructure, inverted totalitarian mess that many would be all too happy to leave. Western Europe, in particular Germany and Scandinavia are now the new hope for freedom which Reagan promised us that there would never be after us. And the reason is they have better electoral systems (and never underwent a Red Scare) so their Overton Window is more balanced, and their political discourse is more reasonable. They’re not Socialist–they just value basic measures to increase quality of life, including a welfare safety net, paid family leave and universal healthcare. They found a happy balance between free market entrepreneurism and the rights of labor by letting workers elect at least 1/3 of the board of directors in each company. We might have come up with reasonable solutions like that if we had not sprinted right in fear of the Soviets. It’s almost like extremism and shutting out opposing viewpoints is detrimental, or something.
Reagan’s line about how people who’ve traded freedom for security have embarked on a downward course is a point I do agree with. Again though, that line is just as much a condemnation of the modern Republicans as anyone. It is Bush who created the NSA’s PRISM program, the TSA, torture at Gitmo and all other draconian overreactions to terrorism. Obama shamefully kept this apparatus intact of course. To go back to the Red Scare though, isn’t this line also a perfect condemnation of the forces of the Rightwing in Reagan’s time? They literally demonized and systematically wiped out anyone who was even perceived to be too leftwing and therefore “communist” from all walks of public life–even just making movies in Hollywood. If that isn’t a gross invasion of liberty in the name of “security” I don’t know what is. That is probably the single worst example of free thought and alternate ideas being forcibly repressed in US history. With that in mind, the hypocrisy is off the charts here.
If I really wanted to point by point destroy this speech I’d look into the quotes by Senators and government officials Reagan then begins to throw around, to see what the context was and that kind of thing. But this is just a general reaction so I won’t bother with that. I do think it’s pretty petty to take such offense to the word “masses” though. That’s just stupid baseless semantics and virtue-signaling. I can’t stand when people needlessly try to throw out an argument over something like that. Finally on this note, I think Reagan is being deliberately obtuse in saying government can only control economic policy if force is used. This is where my attempt to fully understand right-libertarian ideologies has often broken down in the past. I just cannot understand how or why it’s considered force to have everyone pay their fair share in order to maintain the society we all benefit from. (At least in theory, if our taxes actually improved America rather than funding wars.) It’s not force to reorganize corporations which only came into existence through government-passed law in the first place.
The founders did fear centralized government, it’s true. But I think Reagan’s being somewhat of a hypocrite here, because as President he created the NSA, and did not reign in some of the more blatantly anti-founders examples of big government, such as the FED when its common knowledge most of our founders and Andrew Jackson hated the idea of a central bank. Once again too, it’s ironic now in hindsight because his party created Homeland Security, the TSA, expanded the military industrial and now intelligence complexes, and Trump now calls for violence and voter suppression. The Modern Republican Party that Reagan created, which deifies him even now, is everything he claims to be against here. It’s fine to say the man’s ideas changed in 16 years, just don’t use this speech as an example of Reagan’s actual legacy in US politics. I’ve seen so many people throw it around as proof Reagan was the best President in modern times, but it doesn’t reflect what he actually did with power when he got it.
I don’t know much about the farming issues he talks about, so I’m not gonna touch that.
Reagan’s next point is to say that the existence of a fat and skinny man does not mean the fat man stole from the skinny man. He uses this as a metaphor for how the existence of wealthy and poor doesn’t mean the wealthy should be penalized for the existence of poverty. The thing is…this is just plain false. There’s a limited money supply (unless ol’ Ronnie believes in printing more money, but that’d be inflationary) so by its very definition hoarders are preventing the rest of us from accessing more of it. The core principle of economics is that we live in a world of scarcity, IE limited resources, so people who take more are absolutely depriving others of access to them. When less than 100 billionaires own literally as much wealth as the bottom 3.5 BILLION people…that’s stealing. Legalized theft, and I don’t care what you say. And when established corporations and rich people buy up all the media outlets, food supplies, last reservoirs of fresh water, extend the copyright laws so they own all intellectual property forever etc etc…that’s theft. It means they have a monopoly on all the physical and intellectual resources that people need in their day to day lives, holding us hostage and forcing us to empower them further merely to live. When you have more money than you could spend in 100 lifetimes, and enough wealth to buy all the politicians you need to entrench your interests in law forever…that’s theft. When we as a global society produce enough food to feed everyone in the world but most of it goes to waste due to the fact that sending food to the poor is unprofitable then yes, in fact, the fat man is directly and quite literally responsible for the thin man not having enough to eat.
Its possible that Reagan’s point about poverty and hunger being overemphasized by the government was true then. I don’t know, I wasn’t alive then. I know a bit about the Great Society, but in any case, today the opposite situation is true. On the news we’re distracted with bullshit celebrity gossip, admittedly some wonderful TV shows, and social wedge issues. As Noam Chomsky put it: “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.” There isn’t enough focus on the vast inequality of wealth in the world, or how our political patrician class regularly breaks the law and gets away with it. Or how many people die on the streets due to overpriced healthcare while the military and DEA budgets get more inflated by the year. I do agree with Reagan again about overhead and how little money actually goes to help people these days. That’s actually a very good point, and still true today.
I wish more people who complained about Bernie got this—it wasn’t about massive new government spending and new taxes. It was about streamlining and redirecting our money to go to programs which actually help people instead of the overblown military, law enforcement and bureaucratic budgets our federal government is currently comprised of. And to reiterate, Conservatism is not evil, in fact Conservatives are necessary in government to keep programs focused and effective. Here, Reagan actually shows why that is. We need people who take a step back and ask “do we really need this XYZ new program?” and “That cost seems a bit bloated, can’t we find some way to trim the fat off it?” That’s an essential function which has to be filled for a healthy government to function. Problem is, modern right wingers just want to break government so they can say “See! Government doesn’t work! Privatize everything!” That’s not classical conservatism, that’s neoliberalism, bordering on Anarcho-Capitalism.
Reagan’s barb about the Soviet colonies being enslaved also has a strong parallel to modern America with our economic strong-arming of other countries to prop up our petrodollar and our economy at large. Supposedly, that’s why we ousted Saddam and Gaddafi—because they wanted to trade oil in Euros and not Dollars. We supported an overthrow of the governments in Panama and Iran because a Fruit company in America would be better off and to pay less money in oil, respectively. These are just a few examples off the top of my head, but the lectures of Noam Chomsky as well as the book Confessions of an Economic Hitman reveal more. Let’s not pretend that enslavement is unique to Left-Authoritarian governments.
Reagan is correct again about how no government ever voluntarily relinquishes power and no government entity ever dies. This is why I fear and hate programs like the NSA, TSA, DEA and Homeland Security. It’s why any form of Authoritarianism, be it Leftwing in the USSR or Rightwing in the USA is bad for its own citizens along with foreign countries caught under their thumb. Also, Reagan raises a good point about how the government can seize and auction off assets and bust down your door without a warrant. That’s more true today than ever before with no knock raids, Stingrays, drones, civil asset forfeiture and the war on drugs which Reagan and his successor Bush the First escalated. Like so much of this speech, I actually do agree with the points he’s making, it’s just that he never actually addressed these same issues in office.
Just as Bush the First earned a new level of scorn from me for calling out McGovern, Reagan dipped even lower in my book here for calling out another political hero of mine, Norman Thomas. I wonder if the cheering imbeciles in the crowd would be so overjoyed if they could look into the future and see how bad things in America have gotten under Reagan’s neoliberalism and his welcoming of the evangelical right into politics. The latter was specifically warned against by Goldwater himself in fact. These people had it as good as any Americans ever will and then followed their insipid leader to the destruction of those beneficial, so-called “socialist” programs which has devastated their children and their children’s children. They got all the benefits of the New Deal and Great Society growing up which helped them to succeed, then they pulled up the ladder behind them. They buried their children in an insurmountable national debt, personal medical and student loan debt, and the massive task of dealing with climate change. But so much for balanced budgets or sustainability.
Then he goes into talking up Goldwater. I have nothing to say about that. Then some chest thumping about the Cold War and how it’s better to sacrifice for the greater cause than live on your knees. Effective, emotional, but ultimately empty rhetoric. I have to ask: how is paying taxes to improve infrastructure not a perfect example of such sacrifice? Is it not better to give a little money back so that you don’t have to live in the wild, at the mercy of the animals and elements? I mean, how is this any different from what he’s talking about?
Bob Dole, the Last Paleoconservative Republican (1988)
The reason why I’ve come to admire Bob Dole is because he was one of the few, maybe even the very last, actual fiscal conservatives left in the Republican Party post-Reagan. He first came onto the national campaign scene as Ford’s VP nominee in 1976. I found him dull as dirt then and in his own Presidential debates in 1996. That said, I did really enjoy his RNC speech from that same cycle though. It felt very sincere in wanting to actually move America forward, even if I may have disagreed with Dole on how exactly to accomplish that. I’ve said before and I’ll say again that I consider his doomed Presidential run in 1996 to be the death of paleoconservatism in America the same as how McGovern’s* 1972 run was the death of progressivism. Since each man’s defeat, their parties have abandoned their traditional values in favor of culture war nonsense. It’s just one caters to evangelicals and white nationalists while the other cozies up to feminists as well as racial and sexual minorities. In terms of economics, both sides are neoliberal and in terms of foreign policy they’re both neocons. Ultimately, Dole was my favorite candidate besides John Anderson in 1980, and the only person I could stomach at all in the 1988 and 1996 GOP primaries.
*ASIDE: The two even worked together on Food for Peace, and one of my favorite moments of the 1980 GOP debate I saw was when Dole specifically name-dropped McGovern and admitted to having great respect for him. Imagine that happening now–it wouldn’t.
In terms of speaking, Dole’s a little monotone and one note in his delivery, and has a weird idiosyncratic tendency to refer to himself in the third person here and there. (This would be parodied on The Simpsons and Family Guy a lot.) My own initial impression of him as being insufferably boring has been unfairly colored by seeing 1996 first. He was old and way past his prime then, but in the ’80s debates, he came off much better. In this speech, he’s funny, can laugh at himself, and then pivots well into the issues.
I like how he talks about taking care of the hungry, homeless and poor—Imagine ANY Republican saying that now. Nowadays they talk about their Godly virtue out of one side of their mouth, while preaching Social Darwinian “let them eat cake” bullshit out the other. The way Dole describes sitting down with Congress and going over the budget line by line is what Conservatism ought to be—trimming the fat, asking “do we really need this?” etc. Not hacking and slashing whole agencies and beneficial programs willy-nilly because “the private sector is better.” Notice the difference between Dole’s principled, proactive approach and the Republican neocon/neoliberals of today running up massive debts on overseas wars, only ever mentioning the budget when a Democrat gets elected. Dole even calls for peace, in direct conflict with the warmongering of the modern GOP (and centrist Democrats like Hillary Clinton, to be fair).
Overall, a great speech. One of the best campaign speeches I’ve seen from either side of the aisle. In his prime, before 1996, Dole was a great candidate and would’ve been a good President. If we had chosen him and not Reagan in 1980 this country would be a far better place today. This is my gold standard of what a Rightwing politician ought to be. Anytime anyone accuses me of being too partisan or biased when I criticize the modern GOP, I’ll point them to 1980 and 1988 Bob Dole and say “I didn’t leave the Right, the Right left me.” (I did actually used to be Right-wing in my earlier days, believe it or not.)
Ross Perot, The Last Great Independent (1992)
Every party system since the Third has had at least one great candidate who ran outside of the two party duopoly. “Great” in this definition meaning they scored a significant number of electoral and/or popular votes, not necessarily that I like their policies. With the Third Party System, it was James Weaver in 1892. With the Fourth Party System, it was Teddy Roosevelt in 1912. For the Fifth Party System, it was George Wallace in 1968. Then the Sixth Party System had Ross Perot in 1992 and ’96. Teddy was the only third party candidate to do better than an opponent from a major party. Wallace was the last third party to get electoral votes (and he was also one of the most successful in general). Ross Perot’s support was very spread out, and taken from both parties fairly equally, so he got no electoral votes. But he was polling ahead of both major candidates for a long time, won 19% of the popular vote and remains the only non-duopolistic candidate to spar against both major parties on the debate stage.* It is my firm belief that if Ross had not left the race only to haphazardly jump back in, he may have come in second place like Teddy had 80 years earlier. It is also my belief that if America used just about any other voting system except first-past-the-post, he would have won.
*ASIDE: John Anderson faced off against Reagan in 1980, but he did not get to stand on the stage with both candidates at once.
What’s the first thing he says in this speech? “I don’t have script-writers, this is coming from the heart.” That one line perfectly sums up Perot as a candidate, and his appeal. Perot’s memories about his mother feeding homeless people, and the community helping his family out when his dad was having surgery were really touching. So is his analogy about how divided teams lose, either in sports, war…or as a country…and how we KNOW that about sports or war and yet we STILL haven’t figured that out about our own country. I like how he complains about the tax rate, but not in a Libertarian/Right-wing “cut all taxes!!” way, so much as a “where the hell is the money going?!!?” way. And he’s absolutely right, we ought to have the most advanced and utopian country in the world for what we pay…but we don’t. We stir up shit abroad while our cities don’t have clean water and our people cant get decent healthcare. This is a great beginning that emphasizes the kind of merger between left and right platitudes Perot naturally appealed to. His rhetoric is not negative or fiery so much as pleading for togetherness.
I also liked his anecdote about the “let them eat cake” quote, specifically that it shows how out of touch the aristocrats had become, similar to the elites in DC losing sight of what life is like for the average American. Everything he’s saying about de-industrializing leading to a decline in the standard of living is totally right on, and again I think that’s where the Trump base is coming from in 2016. I know that we’re a service oriented country now…but why can’t we be both? What’s wrong with having our computer service jobs for programmers and engineers while the high school graduates get manufacturing jobs too? Yes, Free Trade is better for overall GDP, but in reality the rich are the ones who profit while the workers get left behind. Free Trade will never really work unless we have a global livable wage as Jesse Jackson said the previous cycle (1988). Of course, you’ll never see the powers that be support that.
Overall, I like Perot a lot. I like the glasses–they add a softer and more intellectual touch to an otherwise blunt and plainspoken man. I like his southern accent and the cadence of his voice; it’s pleasing to listen to. His oration is strangely soothing despite the passion of his rhetoric, which engenders a sense of “nothing to worry about, he’s got this.” It’s different than Bernie’s booming call to arms, or Jackson’s fiery sermon, but effective in a different way. He’s the only person I could imagine watching a 30 minute infomercial for. He has enough qualities of different political personalities that he can (and did) appeal to everyone. He looks like an intelligentsia and has the know-how to sounds like one too. Yet his country accent, unpretentious demeanor and status as a billionaire makes him acceptable to the south, west and rural America in a way the stuffy Kennedy-esque New England Democrat never could. I like his slogan: “This is your country, you own it.”
I’ve seen every election and every candidate worth noticing this year and I’d say Perot is one of the top “what if” scenarios that breaks my heart. I was hoping Trump would be the next Ross Perot this cycle, as a non-partisan businessman calling attention to common sense solutions the parties won’t touch. Trump initially seemed to be, with the emphasis on anti-Free Trade, yet his rhetoric was ultimately a lot more geared towards the racially charged, evangelical Christian, post-Obama GOP.
Ralph Nader: What Gore Should Have Been (2000)
I think Nader’s chief weakness as an orator is his deep, gravelly, monotone voice. It grows on you after awhile, but it can be pretty dreary at first. But while his oration may leave something to be desired, his rhetoric is superb. On that note, I’d go so far as to say he’s one of the smartest candidates that has ever run for the office of the Presidency. He wasn’t really a politician so much as an activist and intellectual who spoke out against corporate overreach for decades before taking his struggle into politics itself. It’d be like if Noam Chomsky or Chris Hedges directly ran for President.
A lot of the things Nader says here are pretty well known now, but seeing so many other campaign speeches I can now appreciate that Nader was really the first to address all this in such depth. Perot, some of the more progressive Democrats, and Fulani in ’88 had a lot of great things to say as well. But I don’t think anyone else went after corporations and their detrimental effects on our lives so pervasively and so bravely until Nader. Even McGovern mostly focused on government waste and mismanagement rather than corporate exploitation of the workers. You wouldn’t see this kind of scathing critique of big business until Bernie Sanders himself in 2016.
That’s not to say that this speech is overly dark and depressing either. Nader gets a few big laughs in when he wants to. He has a sharp, dry wit. And while the focus is on corporations, he also gets into government stupidity as well, with emphasis on our broken electoral system. He advocates a more parliamentary system where getting 5% of the vote means you get 5% representation in the legislature. It’s definitely something we ought to look into.
David Cobb at the Green Party Convention (2004)
Just watch the beginning when he runs out like a little kid, pumps his hands, yells “hello Green Party!!” and makes awkward hand gestures as he points to the audience. He’s so not self-aware, so unpresidential. He’s just really goofy but not in a charming Joe Biden way…he’s like Tim Kaine if he ate a bunch of sugar, snorted a bunch of coke and drank a bunch of coffee. Cobb was a little awkward at the ’04 debate’s opening statement, but here with just him and all the time in the world he comes off like total clown. Every time he starts yelling and pumping his fist, he looks like someone in a comedy movie giving an over the top impression of a dictator or over-enthusiastic gym teacher at a pep rally…but he’s doing it unironically.
I’ll say he makes a great point bringing up his past affiliation to the Democratic Party and watching one by one all their progressive candidates get murdered in the primaries. After seeing this for myself the past few months, I completely agree. I also like his emphasis on ranked, instant runoff voting, and his explanation of how it works: “its as easy as one two three!” He said that at the debate too, and I think it’s a great slogan that any pro-IRV advocate ought to use.
His speech is just so disorganized. It jumps around from topic to topic without connecting much or going in depth with policy. He seems like a good guy, and he does have some good ideas…but I gotta admit I lost some respect for him after this. I had thought he was a great candidate after watching the debate, one who could’ve stood alongside any major party candidate and had a fair chance to win if given the right funding and attention. Now? I’m seriously doubting that hypothesis. This is why it’s important to watch speeches AND debates before committing to any candidate. Some people shine in one area but not the other. It’s two different skills—being able to attack and pivot, vs being able to go in-depth on policy and hold people’s attention by yourself.
Rocky Anderson at the Justice Party Convention (2012)
Rocky Anderson was by far the best third party candidate in 2012 and if he were on the ballot this year I wouldn’t hesitate to vote for him. I think his party, the Justice Party, is doomed to failure since the Democrats and Greens have cornered the market of a left-wing Party. But he was far better than Jill Stein, that’s for damn sure. He’s a lot more polished and “presidential” for one thing. He has all the same good positions but none of the weird anti-science fringe baggage or the “I protest and get arrested, look how cool I am!” crap. Anderson strikes me as a cross between John Kerry and Lincoln Chafee, both in terms of appearance and mannerisms. A flaw I see in his oration is, again, looking at his speech so often and only occasionally glancing up at the audience for a second at a time. It makes him look like a kid giving a school book report.
I like the positions he lays out here a lot. He doesn’t come off as personable as Nader or Bernie in doing so, however. Not that his speech is in any way bad, but he uses the words “frustrated,” “corrupted” etc a bit too much. And the speech is delivered a little flatly. Bernie and Nader had a talent for going off into tangents, stopping to ask rhetorical questions, or giving a dry witty barb at just the right time to keep the cadence fresh and hold peoples’ attention. Anderson just kinda drones on and on, complaint after complaint, listed in the same slightly dull tone. It’s still a well written speech, don’t get me wrong. The thing is, I think a more natural and charismatic speaker would be able to improvise a little or pause and let a moment sink in (or make it sink in with a question or anecdote), while Anderson lacks that naturalness.
He makes a great point you don’t hear often from mainstream politicians, which is that the Democrats have become the conservatives while the Republicans are now extremist reactionaries.
Thanks for sharing these, I always admired Goldwater and Reagan and it is good to see their best speeches.
Cassandra, your tireless work on this two-part essay deserves at least one comment. I remember reading, enjoying and most importantly learning from your original analyses. Those were exhilarating times. Recent posts of yours have made perfectly clear why your mood has changed since then. All the same, this revised version is every bit as hard-hitting and deserves to be widely read.