Bad Speech Poorly Delivered

I wrote at some length yesterday about House Republican Leader Eric Cantor’s Great Big Speech at AEI and its astonishing lack of originality. What I didn’t know, since I was working from Cantor’s prepared text, was that his delivery sucked, too. Here’s WaPo’s Dana Milbank on his own underwhelmed reaction:

Republicans have happened upon a felicitous new strategy for reviving their party from its depressed state: They need only think happy thoughts….

In other words, Republicans will win elections if only they can stop being so dour, dammit.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor took this don’t­worry-be-happy strategy seriously, and in a heavily promoted “major” speech to the American Enterprise Institute on Tuesday afternoon, he let the sun shine in.

He began with an uplifting anecdote about the Wright brothers and quoted the inspirational words of Emma Lazarus. He spoke from a lectern decorated with a foam board carrying the slogan “Making life work for more people” and brought with him some everyday folks to illustrate his upbeat philosophy, including an African American father who found a better education for his children and a girl doing well in her battle with cancer….

But the sunny routine was a difficult one for Cantor, who has made a career in Washington of being testy and acidic. His delivery was forced and, as he read his text, he seemed to be reminding himself to grin. As a result, he scowled for much of the speech and sounded as though he were spitting out his words. Smiles formed at inopportune times, such as when he described a boy’s failure in public school.

When it came to what his party would do to make people so buoyant and uplifted, Cantor had little beyond the policies he and his colleagues have long offered.

None of this would have much mattered if Cantor hadn’t oversold his speech as such a very big deal in the history of his party, and if his party hadn’t already heard similarly empty “rebranding” speeches practically from the moment the 2012 election was lost. As Milbank says:

In recent weeks, Republican leaders such as Cantor have resembled nothing so much as laundry detergent salesmen, figuring if they can simply rebrand their product (High Efficiency 2x Ultra Stainlifter Clean Breeze Concentrated Fresh!) Americans will buy what they’re selling. Omitted from consideration is the possibility that consumers don’t like what’s in the bottle.

DailyKos’ Joan McCarter put it more colorfully, calling Cantor’s speech the “fourth or fifth slathering of lipstick in recent months on his porcine party.”

If you have the time and stamina, you can judge for yourself:

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.