Monday, January 9, 2006

Bush Speaks, I Cringe

So I didn’t mention it here last week, but I did a pretty cool thing last Friday. I had lunch with President Bush and talked about the state of the economy.

Well, the truth is actually that he talked about the state of the economy and I listened. That, and he didn’t stay for lunch. And there were about three hundred of us in the room.

Still it was pretty cool. I had never been in the same room with a President of the U.S. unless it was at his tomb, so when I received an invite to his speech at the Economic Club of Chicago, I was quite excited. In general I am not the type of guy who gets star struck, and when I’ve had occasion to meet celebrities I’ve done so with practiced indifference. In all my years there was only one celeb that was able to shake my façade and leave me like a gaping school boy; Princess Di.

But that’s a story for another time.

Friday’s lunch with W was quite interesting though for quite the opposite reason; it was incredibly underwhelming. The event began as I imagine all of these things go. Prior to Bush’s arrival, the Chairman of the club stood at the podium and introduced the board members of the club, all of whom were various Chicago dignitaries. One by one, as their names and affiliations were announced they stood up and remained standing until all board members had been introduced, at which point the Chairman asked that we all give a round of applause for “this distinguished group”. “How embarrassing” I thought, glad that Bush wasn’t yet in the room to witness this display of self congratulatory yokelism. The whole charade seemed sooooo small town Rotarian to me and I wondered if they did the same thing in more important cities.

At any rate, once this formality was finished we were informed that Bush would arrive shortly, and everyone began making small talk, waiting for the Big Man. Suddenly, almost out of nowhere, Bush was striding up to the podium and the room slowly began applauding in a way that gains momentum as people realize what is going on. This prompted two thoughts; what a lousy advance team the guy must have, and two how Bush seemed to lack the necessary presence of an “A” level leader.

Somebody once said to me that there are two kinds of effective politicians. The first is the guy who is very personable one to one and has developed his skills at the retail level. By all accounts Bush is this guy, as even his ideological enemies report that he can be quite charming in person. The second is the politician with presence. This is the guy who people know is in the room, without even seeing him; Bill Clinton for example. Based on Friday’s entrance Bush does not posses this quality at all.

I had been very interested in seeing a full retail speech by Bush because what we get on the news is always little snippets of speech’s that don’t provide the full look and feel. What I saw was not impressive. Bush, in my view is an undisciplined, lazy speaker. His physical presentation is all over the place, at times speaking directly into the microphone, at others being too far away. He’ll lean into the podium facing the audience directly, and then at other times stand sideways with his arm across his body as if he is preparing to hit someone on the football field.

There is also his pacing. For the most part it is quite bad and tends to require the audience to engage the speaker rather than the other way around. This is not always the case though. During his speech, there were times that the President became quite impassioned. You could sense that he really cared about the particular topic and his delivery became quite powerful, and darn near eloquent. Education was one of these topics.

I also noticed one moment that was a bit amusing because at one point or another we’ve all been there, just not quite on that high of a stage. Specifically, George lost his place.

I’m not sure many noticed this but I did, and I came away pretty impressed. W had a book with him that had the speech inside. As he was speaking he would turn from page to page and although he wasn’t reading, he clearly was consulting the book. As he entered the topic of Education his page turning became more vigorous, and at one point he apparently turned too many pages. So he flipped a couple pages back, then a couple forward. Back. Forward. All the while as this manic page turning was going on, he kept talking without missing a beat, and I found myself wondering how long he could keep it up!

All in all, I think it took W a minute to find his place at which point I realized I had been holding my breath and I think I let out a sigh of relief.

After about 45 minutes it was all over and W was gone almost as quickly as he had entered. I’m glad I went, and I guess I wasn’t overly surprised about how it all turned out. I started off my week this morning giving a presentation on a new program that I’m implementing. As I was up in front of everyone I kept thinking, “Don’t be like W”. I think it worked.

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