Monday, February 07, 2005

Keeping It Real Politik: Five Minutes After the Speech

I’ll admit it: occasionally I watch C-SPAN. Indeed, sometimes I use it as a cure for insomnia, but every now and then there’s a good program or series on, such as the ’04 presidential campaign’s Road to the White House, where party hopefuls made their cases in relatively intimate surroundings.

One of the best parts of these speeches or town hall meetings are the five or so minutes after it’s ostensibly over. C-SPAN has a tendency to let the cameras roll as the candidate or speaker meets and greets supporters. One on level, it’s hardly newsworthy and largely banal: kind words thrown out by star-struck supporters, photos and autographs flashed and slashed, invitations of support “down the road.” On another, it’s a fascinating insight into what it takes to be a big-time politician in the United States.

John Edwards gave a very good speech last night (I had C-SPAN on in the background as I did some work – a cool-down from the frenzy of the Super Bowl if you will) that updated and amplified his Two Americas stump speech. As I watched the post-speech five minutes, I noticed how poised, how energetic, how on Edwards was. He radiated political stardom, and everyone in the room wanted to gather round him for but a small moment to bask in his warm light.

It made me realize that to be very successful in the politics game – particularly on the national level – you have to have a genuine affection for people. On top of that, you need burning ambition, lights out smarts, a need for the spotlight, and, just maybe, a desire for public service.

I started thinking about movies that expertly look at the political process, such as The Candidate, with Robert Redford, and Primary Colors, with John Travolta. They’re really a look beyond the five minutes, after the cameras are turned off, and the candidates “start getting real,” as the saying goes.

There’s a lot to be learned from those five minutes, though. The look of the eyes, the grasp of the handshake, the eagerness to stand in for one more picture.

Edwards had it, had it all last night. His speech was successful, but he sealed the evening with his performance during the five minutes after.

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