Anecdotal Presidential Campaigning
This is another weirdly, perversely dark morning.
Oh wait, it's night. That explains the darkness. Never mind. Sometimes when I blog at night I get confused and wonder where the sun is. I'm great with directions (North, South, etc.) but not with a.m. and p.m.
Now then: A while back, as you may recall, I cogently argued that Hillary Clinton in her speeches doesn't tell anecdotes, doesn't use narrative, that instead she's a synthesizer, a theme-slinger. I promised to return to this topic. A few days after my blog item, she appeared at the big firefighter convention in Washington, and proved me wrong by telling an actual, authentic anecdote (she's a fanatical reader of my blog). Here's what she said, about 9/11:
"It wasn't just people from New York who responded that day, and the days to follow, and the months to follow. It was people from all over our country. And when I first visited the site, in the afternoon of September 12, I could barely see anything. The dark cloud was so thick. But I could smell it, I could taste it, I could feel it. As I watched the first fire fighters walking out of that curtain of darkness, covered in black soot, barely able to stand, dragging their axes behind them, I knew that the effects of 9/11 would last long after September 11."
So, decent anecdote. But not the winning anecdote of the day. Nor was this one, from John McCain:
"I'd like to just mention to you, I was recalling on the way over here, a long time ago, I was on board the USS Forrestal, and we had a terrible fire. That film of that fire is still shown to every ingoing member of the United States Navy. It was the worst fire we ever had in the history of our Navy -- 134 brave young Americans gave their lives that day onboard the deck of the Forrestal. And it just happened, by coincidence, I was sitting in the airplane that a rocket came across the flight deck -- it was fired by mistake -- and hit the fuel tank of my airplane that started the entire inferno. Young men gave their lives that day to save that ship. And it would not have been saved if it had not been for their sacrifice."
Good anecdote. But still not in the same league as Joe Biden, whose speech that day was really quite remarkable. He went on way too long, as is his pattern, but he definitely captivated the crowd, especially at the start, when he talked about his own personal crises and tragedies and the many ways that firefighters had helped his family:
"I grew up in a little town called Claymont, Delaware, gone to a Catholic grade school. Across the street was a fire hall. Everything in my town, everything in my state revolves around the fire hall. That's where you get buried. That's where you get married. That's where you go to dance, and that's where you go to cry.
"And in 1972, soon after I get elected, if you excuse this point of personal privilege, my wife and my three kids were driving along, Christmas shopping, on December 18. I was in Washington. And the guy driving the tractor trailer broadsided my wife and children and killed my wife and killed my daughter.
"And guys I grew up with, the people who got me elected -- they were the ones there with the jaws of life in their hands, saving the life of my two sons. It was my fire company, my fire company that saved my children.
"In 1988, I had an aneurysm, a cranial aneurysm and bled. My doc didn't give me a whole hell of a lot of a chance of living. And I had to get to a neurosurgeon in the middle of a snowstorm, from Wilmington to Washington. They wanted me to hire a private ambulance service.
"Now, they asked for my local fire company to come and get me. They got me down in the snowstorm. They passed by the Delaware state police and the Maryland state police, when there was confusion, and they said, screw it, and they got me to Walter Reed.
"And soon after I got on the operating table for what was, I guess, a nine or ten-hour operation, that aneurysm burst. Were it not for my guys, the guys I grew up with, the guys I went to school with, the guys that love me as much as I love them, I would not have made it.
"And a few years ago, I was on "Meet the Press," in Washington, D.C., early in the morning, and lightning struck my home, with my wife alone in that home.
"There were hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of damage. Five companies, five companies responded. And they responded within seven minutes, the first one.
"My wife standing out there in a bathrobe said: I couldn't believe these kids. They could not see a single thing through the window from black smoke. And they went in, wave after wave.
"We owe you. We owe you big.
"And so when I say my support for you is real -- you educated me when I was in grade school, you took care of me in the worst times of my life, you literally saved the lives of three Bidens and maybe four, and you did it like you always do it: Never expecting to be thanked; everybody taking it for granted; but, in some cases, rising your life and your reputation to get me there.
"So I make no bones and have made no bones about it in my home state. I make no bones about my affection for you.
"Some of you are real horse's asses. [Laughter, applause.] Most of you...But even those guys have a heart as big as their head. [Laughter] You know what my fire company does for me? My kids... after they got them out -- and they were hospitalized a long time -- a different firefighter every damn day would come in and hang with my kids.
"For the next 16 years, my fire company, on Christmas Eve -- Christmas Eve -- would get the ladder, get these guys dressed up as Santa Claus and ... come to my house just to make my kids feel good.
"The first six years it was a big, big deal. After that... they came for the egg nog. [Laughter.] But, ladies and gentlemen... Ladies and gentlemen..... you don't even get it. You are simply the single best thing we have. You're the best thing we have. You not only risk your lives, you organize the little league teams, you grade the baseball diamond, you hang out and take care of the Pop Warner (ph) leagues. You take care of the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts. You're the grit that makes this country."
[That's an anecdote.]
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