Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered his acceptance speech to the 1936 Democratic National Convention before a crowd of 100,000 people at Franklin Field in Philadelphia--one of three acceptance speeches given at stadiums (the other two were John Kennedy's in the Los Angeles Coliseum in 1960 and Barack Obama's at Invesco Field in Denver last week). As Roosevelt was approaching the podium, out of view of the spectators, he reached out to shake hands with the elderly poet Edwin Markham and fell. Helpless to rise on his own, Roosevelt was furious; his speech text flew out of his hands. But aides quickly helped him rise and, on the arm of his son James Roosevelt, made his way to the podium and began speaking to the 100,000 in the stadium and a nationwide radio audience. But the pages of his speech text were out of order. Quickly, without a hint of irritation or hesitation, he reshuffled them while he was speaking. He was a pro. (You can read a good account in Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.'s The Politics of Upheaval, somewhere around page 567; I can't recall the exact page number).
So is Sarah Palin. Last night, according to Bret Baier of Fox News, Red State, and numerous other sources, Palin's TelePrompTer malfunctioned. The two TelePrompTers on the podium and the one on a screen on the far side of the auditorium were scrolling a couple of sentences ahead. I disagree with my U.S. News colleague Robert Schlesinger's conclusion that the malfunction was minor; if the TelePrompTer doesn't show the words you are supposed to say next, it's not much help. Palin's paper text was a crumpled-up copy of the seventh version of the speech, which was different from the final ninth version. Palin didn't stumble or show irritation; she did get one word slightly wrong. Before an audience of perhaps 15,000 and 37 million households (as compared to 38 million for Barack Obama), she didn't lose a beat. She is a pro.
By the way, it was at least Franklin Roosevelt's fourth Democratic National Convention speech; he delivered memorable nominating speeches for Al Smith in 1924 and 1928 and shattered precedent by flying from Albany to Chicago and accepting his nomination in person in 1932. It was Sarah Palin's first speech to a Republican National Convention. Roosevelt memorably said in his first inaugural that Americans had nothing to fear but fear itself. Sarah Palin seems to fear nothing. Call her Sarah Delano Palin.
For another comment on Palin's speech, see Lexington Green of Chicago Boyz. And I can't resist quoting (with his permission) Bill Bennett's closing statement on his radio program this morning, which refers to my 2004 book, Hard America, Soft America:
Might I say the era of compassionate conservatism is over. We are now in the era of something else, where compassion doesn't need to be stated as a label, because it's lived in the Palin and McCain commitments to their families and what they do with their lives. I think we may now be in the era of Hard America Conservatism. What is Hard America? As Michael Barone describes it: It's the part of American life subject to competition and accountability; where the military trains under live fire. Soft America seeks to instill self-esteem. Hard America plays for keeps. It's an America of fighting back. But as Michael Barone puts it, there is still room for Soft America--it's a big country and not everyone will agree with you, or us. Still, he says: We have the luxury of keeping part of our society Soft only if we keep most of it Hard. And that is the best way I can describe our country's Republican party as embodied by McCain and Palin right now. With an assist from the likes of people like Rudy Giuliani.
By Michael Barone