- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 25, 2004

In a political community such as Washington, with its heavy traffic in speechwriters, speech givers and speech listeners, the publication of a new edition of William Safire’s magnificent “Lend Me Your Ears: Great Speeches in History” should call for a genuine celebration of his brilliance. That Mr. Safire needs no introduction goes without saying: Presidential speechwriter, the most influential of political columnists, novelist, historian, educator, and “the most eloquent explicator of our language” all have placed him high in the public eye.

For this new edition (his third) Mr. Safire has taken two great steps forward. First, 17 new Great Speeches have been added to the more than 200 survivors of the last volume — not merely by slotting them into convenient vacancies but by carefully weighing an array of qualities involving each newcomer. Second, Mr. Safire has added three draft speeches that were never delivered — one each for Presidents Kennedy, Nixon and Clinton.

First is Kennedy’s undelivered speech prepared for delivery in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. Second is a short but moving address (written by Bill Safire) prepared for President Nixon in the event that catastrophic failure occurred in the 1969 moon landing. Third, President Clinton was offered a draft speech to be delivered after he appeared before a Federal grand jury impaneled by Ken Starr. The draft had an apologetic tone: “What I did was wrong — and there is no excuse for it.” The speech Mr. Clinton gave, however, was defiant: “It’s nobody’s business but ours. Even Presidents have private lives.”

But as interesting as the new editions are, equally compelling are Mr. Safire’s wonderfully elucidating eight-page Preface and his Introductory Address to everyone interested in lending him an ear. The Preface addresses his own question, where does a speech become a speech, when it was drafted or when it was given? His answer: words on a page do not a speech make, nor is a script a play nor a screenplay a movie. “What makes a draft speech a real speech,” he said, “is the speaking of it.”

With that definition at hand, Mr. Safire then states, “A great speech is created by the drama of the occasion, the persuasive style of the orator or the elegance of the words themselves.” Great speeches, he adds, are made on occasions of emotional turmoil — of which he cites numerous possibilities. To anyone seriously interested in the art of speechwriting or speechmaking, the Safire Preface, from its start to finish, is an absolute must.

In the subsequent Introductory Address, “All I seek,” he declares, “is your attention to speeches by historic figures. The sound bites and zingers, aphorisms and epigrams (he continues) are for quotation anthologists. The study of one-liners is engaging, if you like the smorgasbord or quick review, but here we offer the meat and potatoes of oratory — oral communication in context, human persuasion in action.” He who reaches this point will come to Daniel Webster stirring “the blood of patriots at Bunker Hill,” or may catch the voice of Douglas MacArthur calling West Point cadets to “duty, honor, country,” or that of Winston Churchill in Britain’s finest hour, calling for “blood, toil, tears and sweat.”

The Introductory Address also takes the reader within earshot of Lou Gehrig and Dwight Eisenhower; we listen to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, Lincoln’s curious sermon at his second inaugural and Billy Graham preaching the gospel. We hear Louis Pasteur on education, Mark Twain on stage fright, and Sen. Everett Dirksen on his beloved marigolds. We hear Edgar Allan Poe explaining the poetic principle, and Spiro Agnew’s blast at the “instant analysts of the media.”

Ambassador Robert Strauss, Safire quotes, likes to start his addresses by saying, “Before I begin this speech, I have something I want to say.” Mr. Safire then directly addresses the reader: “There are secrets to speechwriting and speech making that you can learn here and use. Dip into this book often enough and you will get the hang of them, including a few unspecified tips on the need for a well-structured speech.”

The Introductory Address, like the Preface, deserves deep and careful reading, the rewards for which are abundant. William Safire is so rich in history, in tales to tell, and in humor to reap, that his book can quickly and easily capture the reader and hold him hostage to more reading. History stands guard at each of his 14subject categories, and for each of his Great Speeches he creates an introduction to set its history and surrounding circumstances.

Among the new Great Speakers in this edition are Oliver Cromwell, Orson Welles, Gen. George S. Patton and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. When all is said and done, it is easy to suspect that Bill Safire’s most enjoyable task with this book was to put together many loose pieces and write out a possible full text of the motivational speech by General George S. Patton, widely known as Old Blood ‘n Guts.

If Gen. Patton ever did write out the ever-changing wording of his speech, it was never found and most of his historians believe it never existed. The Safire text is probably as close as we will ever get to reality on this. Remembering the movie, “Patton,” with George C. Scott, if you expect the Safire version of his opening speech to leave you laughing, or embarrassed, or emotional, don’t be surprised.

With perfect cadence, Bill Safire has made Patton sound as much like the real thing as George C. Scott did. Whatever your calling, “Lend Me Your Ears” will prove to be the most remarkable and rewarding book of the year.

Ambassador Robert M. Smalley (Ret.) was appointed by President Ronald Reagan.



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