Bill Clinton, the optimistic raconteur

Yes, it was the first time a man took the stage as the spouse of a presidential candidate. And yes, it was the first time a former President endorsed a presidential candidate who happened to be his wife. Remarkable, indeed, because the credibility coming from a President and the intimacy coming from a husband were intertwined in the same speech.

Optimistic

Bill Clinton is optimistic.

His voice is tired, weak and thin. It’s the product of a pair of vocal folds that have worked under pressure for too long, and now their muscles back off. Only with high intensity is his larynx able to produce a voice that sounds like a voice and not like a whispery creak [listen].

But even though he knew that his voice would fail him, he tried. At certain points in the speech, he lowered the intensity seeking to emphasize a word – sometimes less intensity means more passion –, and then his voice almost disappeared. But he nevertheless tried.

He gave his voice a shot, as when he bought that house Hillary loved in hope that she would then marry him.

Storytelling 101

Mr. Clinton showed Candidate Clinton from his eyes, the eyes of a husband who at the beginning of the story, “the spring on 1971,” was just a law student who had “met a girl [listen].”

In a subjective and quasi Dogme-95-like sequence, we saw what he was seeing: the long white skirt and the big glasses, yes. But also the power of a woman who has always done what she considered was worth doing. He called it “self-possession,” the most feminist term that can be used to describe a woman who owns her life and writes her story.

He stood away from the typical artifacts of public speaking and the rhetorical devices of political speech. He used a narrative intonation, with the ups (up to 390 Hz: really high for a man’s voice [listen]) and downs in tone that add drama to the tales we tell our friends.

He prolonged the stressed vowel in certain words so as to create suspense and a piling up effect. For example, when he said “the-en…” [listen], or “meanwhi-ile…” he set the scenario for the underlying idea of the speech: that Hillary Clinton’s life was made of back-to-back meaningful episodes of achievement. And on top of all that, “her waters broke” and she became “the best mother in the whole world.”

In his voice and calm prosody I heard, more than admiration, the certainty that the woman who had finally married him is the best person in the world.

Follower of Rule Number 6

“Don’t take yourself so goddamn seriously” is the motto that music conductor and leadership author Benjamin Zander calls ‘Rule Number 6.’ I believe Mr. Clinton is a follower of this rule.

He showed his sense of humor [listen], and his less strong self [listen]. He spoke about poor decisions he had made [listen], and about times when he had failed [listen]. And he acknowledged that she was probably more skillful than he was [listen].

But above everything, his tone revealed his admiration and sincere respect for his wife. And not because she has the perfect qualities of a good wife, but because he believes she is the President the United States need now – fortunately not every man wants to marry Melanias and raise Ivankas.

 

PS: I hope one day all women are “self-possessed.” If Hillary Clinton is elected President, we will be closer to that day.

 

 


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