Published for The Washington Post, September 14, 2012
During a presidential election in which both campaigns seem mainly intent on turning out their most ideologically typical voters — through the endless application of construction metaphors (“We did build that!”) or abortion applause lines on demand — it is worth recalling that candidates have not always run and won in this way.
The drought of innovative rhetoric at the conventions led me to reread two campaign speeches that now seem ancient. The first is Bill Clinton’s “New Covenant” address, delivered at Georgetown University on Oct. 23, 1991. The second is George W. Bush’s “Duty of Hope” speech, given in Indianapolis on July 22, 1999. (As a speechwriter, I helped produce the latter.)
There are differences between these appeals. Clinton’s remarks have an edge of economic populism, including criticisms of the “gilded age of greed and selfishness” in the 1980s. Bush’s are less partisan and more religious.