September 17, 2012
How they say it
Even before Mitt Romney gave his big acceptance speech at the Republican convention, the pundits were dissecting how he spoke as much as what he said. It's good to remember John Althouse Cohen's observation that
Most ordinary citizens who tried to run for president would probably come off as wooden and unhip. The candidate who can "connect" with most people is actually unlike most people.
But applying Occam's Razor to the question of how, there's a simple explanation for why Romney gives a speech the way he does.
As Orson Scott Card describes here, the Mormon church is the equivalent of Toastmasters International. Local churches are run by a lay clergy, so the average member ends up giving lots of sermons (Mormons call them "talks").
Because the church promotes exclusively from within, this mutually-reinforcing speaking style influences, and is highly influenced by, how high church officials speak.
The gold standard of Mormon sermonizing is the church's semiannual General Conference. There's one coming up in October. It'll be on cable. Or go here and see where Mitt Romney learned how to talk in public.
My sister hears some of Thomas Monson's mannerisms in Romney's speeches. I've been not listening to Monson as long as I've been alive (he's been a big Mormon Pooh-Bah that long), and Romney's not that bad.
I say not listening because the way Monson delivers a talk drives me nuts. I really do believe he's 100 percent sincere, and millions hang on his every word. But there's certainly no accounting for rhetorical taste.