Politically speaking: The anatomy of a campaign speech

Gone are the days of eloquence in discourse, as we have been placed in the gutter of shallow gimmicks and empty promises

Illustration by Tristan Yuviengco

In 2004, Barack Obama delivered the opening remarks in Boston, Massachusetts for the Democratic Convention—and he went on to become the President of the United States of America in 2009. It was thought to be an “overnight success” for the then relatively unknown senator from Illinois. That keynote address is now considered “The Speech That Made a President,” the first black American President at that.

Recently, candidate Atty. Luke Espiritu participated in a forum with other aspirants for the Philippine Senate. This Atenean lawyer is now more recognizable for the three words he forcefully articulated: “’Wag kang bastos.” Overnight, this labor advocate’s Twitter followers increased from more than 2,000 to 18, 300.

When all is said and done, speeches do have the power to make, and unmake, a politician. The spoken word is transformative. Though calling himself “unlikely,” Obama was then and there touted as a possible future occupant of the Oval Office. For his part, Espiritu went on to become viral right after that firebrand forum. In a sense, speech is also “informative.” Netizens have thus searched for the name of the lawyer who sparred with former Malacañang spokesperson Harry Roque and suspended lawyer Larry Gadon.  People do want to be informed as to who he is.  Speeches also have the capacity to be “formative”; after hearing a speech, those who were able to listen must have been ably assisted in the formation of their decision on whom to vote for or not. Certainly, not a few did have a change of mind right after a speech ended.

Like the scorching summer sun, the political climate will certainly heat up on March 25 as local campaigning begins. People will again fall victim to all types of speeches. I do wonder if some speeches would pass the standard of a modest speech at all. And for those who do not know how to speak publicly, or for others who have nothing meaningful to say at all, will belting out a song or trying-hard dance moves be worthy consolation? Still, there is nothing that could quite replace the power and the candor of a speech. As told, “The fruit of a tree shows the care it has had; so too does one’s speech disclose the bent of one’s mind. Praise no one before he speaks, for it is then that people are tested.” (Sirach 24:7)

Will belting out a song or trying-hard dance moves be worthy consolation?

Truth be told, unlike in ages past, campaign sorties now have been devoid of rhetoric. Gone are the days of eloquence in discourse, the incantation in every utterance of the word, the charm of hand gestures, and the magic of the eye contact with the audience. I contend that the stage and microphone of the politician should be like the pulpit of a preacher and the chair of a professor—both inspirational and educational. But doomed we are today, as we have seemingly been placed in the gutter of shallow gimmicks, empty promises, and stressful negativity coupled with all the neon lights and the irksome, bombastic sounds if only to awaken the attending crowd.

But while we are at it, this is how they usually show their speeches in political rallies. (It really is a show, not a speech, so I refuse to use the term “deliver.”) Better yet, consider this a way to detect a traditional politician’s spiel in sorties. You will definitely hear these words and lines over and over again in campaign sorties. Here is the predictable formula: When they hold the mic, they will mention the names of everyone present, the supposed who’s who in the locality, from the parish priest to the town mayor, to the barangay kapitan and the kagawad and down even to the chief tanod with his cohorts. How many minutes are consumed just to do the roll call? In class, checking of attendance is never considered part of the lesson.  What is really laughable is the disclaimer, “Hindi ko na iisa-isahin….” And as fate would have it, she/he would do just that.

Of course, you do not only say the name; it has to include ‘pambobola’ to describe how the person matters to the community

Of course, you do not only say the name; it has to include “pambobola” to describe how the person matters to the community, and how noble his persona is. “Ang ating napakasipag na mga opisyales,” “Ang kanyang napakagandang maybahay,” “Ang ating very supportive na parish priest,” and so on and so forth. Hallelujah, if there is somebody who knows better and more about the who’s who in the village, it’s the people of the village themselves, and certainly not a visiting campaigner.

Towards the middle of the show, they will  shift to identifying themselves with the people they are talking to: “Ako po ay katulad niyo rin na galing sa mahirap.” ”Naalala ko noong ako ay nag-aaral, working student po ako noon.” “Nag-umpisa rin po ako sa barangay.” “Ako po ay kapwa n’yo rin katutubo.” They would go on and on, even if the  people are dubious of what they are hearing.

Then, the politician will transform into the humblest creature there is with a description of himself/herself: “Ang inyo  pong abang lingkod.” These are two lofty words: “aba” and “lingkod.” Anybody who has the nerve to refer to herself/himself this way could yet be in the process of being canonized as a saint. Even Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who was serving the poorest of the poor, would certainly cringe at the thought of being referred to as “abang lingkod.”  Would it really sell to voters if a candidate is poor?  And with the currents of politicking, the word “paglilingkod” has just been suspect, if not cheapened.

And when it is time to convey the heart of the matter (track record, personal integrity, platform for the government, political will and vision, among others), the politician (a trapo, if we may say so) would quip, “Hindi ko na po hahabaan ang aking sasabihin at marami pang susunod na magtatalumpati.” ‘Nuff said.

While the political climate is rather pathetic for the electorate and the public in general, it is somewhat absurd too on the part of the politicians themselves, since they are being dangled on a string in terms of voters’ “whims and caprices.” Politicians do know better, and have the brightest of ideas with regards to civilization and culture. But do they really have to go down the gutter, unmake their truest selves, and allow themselves to clown around?

Raising the bar back to a high level is a call of the hour. The speeches we hear during the campaign will certainly reflect the kind of government we have after the elections. Very much part of the discernment process before shading the ballots is to be keen on speeches, and to be wary of speakers. Better, be a critique of their speeches, as well as their brand of politics. After all, as F. Sionil Jose asked, “How can culture grow if there are no critics?”

About author


Rev. Fr. Eugene S. Elivera, MA, SThD. is a priest of the Apostolic Vicariate of Puerto Princesa (Palawan). He earned licentiate and doctoral degrees in Moral Theology from Universidad de Navarra in Spain. His two books, ‘Morality of the Heart’ (Contextualized Moral Theology in the Philippine Setting) and ‘Heart of the Story’ (Moral Becoming in Ordinary Living), won the Catholic Mass Media Award in Theology (2013) and Inspirational (2018) categories, respectively. He is the Schools superintendent of the Apostolic Vicariate of Puerto Princesa and parish priest of San Nicolas de Tolentino Parish. He is also the (first) president of the Philippine Mental Health Association, Palawan chapter.

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