Bloviating Is So Last Year

“Every time you have to speak, you are auditioning for leadership.” – James C. Humes

Jamie Humes should know. He has written for Presidents Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, and Reagan. Frankly, no matter what you think about that list itself, each man on it was certainly auditioning for leadership at a particular moment—and certainly auditioning for Clio’s approval at that moment and moments to come.

As writer, historian, and public speaker Humes opens his 2002 book, Speak Like Churchill, Stand Like Lincoln, “Leadership is selling. And selling is talking.” To repeat myself, he should know. And many ghostwriters, myself included, appreciate Humes’ sharing of the 21 powerful secrets of history greatest speakers.

I also appreciate the vignettes Humes shared throughout the book—particularly one featuring the thoughts of The Great Communicator, Ronald Reagan. In the chapter titled Power Button, Humes relates a discussion with speechwriter Tony Dolan about Reagan’s aversion to bloviating.

Dolan shook his head, saying, “The governor doesn’t like that kind of thing. He thinks it sounds like Senator Claghorn.” (Claghorn was a comical windbag politician on the Fred Allen radio show in the 1940s.) And it’s true, if you lard your talks with phrases like “so, my fellow citizens,” or “and so, ladies and gentlemen,” you might sound like some state senator bloviating at a county fair.

Reagan had his own test for a talk. He would imagine the way he’d talk to his barber, Jack, in Santa Barbara. He liked language that you would use in talking at the kitchen table or over the back fence.

Might be an idea for the new presidential entourage come January: a no-bloviating zone. The Donald and his underlings might want to read Reagan In His Own Hand, which was published about the same time as Speak Like Churchill, Stand Like Lincoln.

The book, with a foreword by George P. Schultz, proves that the former President was not the simpleton that liberal detractors made him out to be. Schultz, who served as Reagan’s secretary of state, writes:

Reading through the essays in this book, I thought about all the times I had been with him when he spoke without notes or briefings, forcefully and clearly spelling out what would be the policy positions of the United States. Somehow he always seemed to know what to say.

To many people, President Reagan was a mystery….

The answer to that mystery may lie in these essays, which were written well before he became President. Apparently, even then, he knew quite a bit.

The new President will do well too, I suspect.

CBR contributor J.F. McKenna, a longtime West Park resident, is a business journalist, former magazine editor, and marketing-communications consultant. While at IndustryWeek magazine in the early ‘90s, he wrote a series on Total Quality Government and chaired TQG conferences across the country. McKenna and his wife, Carol, now live in Steeler Country with their dog, Lord Max. Reach him at jfmckwriter23@yahoo.com

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Comments

  1. “Bloviate” has risen and fallen in American life, writes linguist Geoffrey Nunberg. “It was coined in the 1840s from ‘blow,’ a facetious pseudo-Latinism mocking the inflated oratory of an era when, as Tocqueville observed, Americans couldn’t take to the stump without ‘venting their pomposity from one end of a harangue to the other.'”

    That bloated style, Nunberg said, had its last champion in the 1920s in the affable person of Warren Gamaliel Harding. Blessed with strong pipes and a fine head of white hair, Ohio native Harding prided himself on his gift for bloviating, which he defined as “speaking as long as the occasion warrants and saying nothing.”

  2. Happy New Year to all our readers. Joe McK

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