The Corner

Biden and the Perils of Oratory

I first heard Biden speak in September 1983, introducing John Glenn at a candidates’ forum in Atlantic City. Yes, that long ago. John McCain was a freshman congressman; Barack Obama had graduated from Columbia.

The speech he had to give was close to superfluous; John Glenn truly needed no introduction. But Biden’s speech was excellent. The humorous opening was as long, and well paced as late night monologue. The serious parts were stern and forceful. He built to a climax, then took it down, then built to another, and another. How many speakers can build to anything?

So why does he have a reputation as a blowhard? He is too good at what he does well for his own good. Great speakers, like great actors, can fall in love with their own personae. No doubt people got tired of Henry Clay and Daniel Webster back in the day. (Neither man became president, and not for lack of trying).

Reagan went the distance. But Reagan was not a conventional orator. He spoke to his audiences, not at them.

Richard Brookhiser — Historian Richard Brookhiser is a senior editor of National Review and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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