K-PoP: Grading the Presidential Speak Easy

September 12, 2012

President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton both displayed their oratory chops at the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. Photo courtesy of Barack Obama Campaign.



After two weeks and six long days of political infomericals, uh, I mean conventions, K-PoP is here to tally the bodies and settle the score by matching rival speakers from the Republican and Democratic National Conventions and then grading their respective speeches.


Of course, Hyphen being a 501(c)(3) non-profit, we’d never tell you whom to vote for. (Also, the Man’s rules say we “may not participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates.”)  


Again, we’re just grading the speakers and their speeches from the conventions, one of the last places where oratory skills still count for something.


Because if you think about it, the long, rich history of speechmaking in this country is just about dead, and the convention speeches, along with the President’s annual State of the Union (hopefully) and the Academy Award acceptance speeches (sadly), are the only speeches we might ever watch.


Round 1:  Celebrity vs. Celebrity


At the RNC, Hollywood legend Clint Eastwood ad-libbed a 12-minute dialogue. The only problem was that his acting partner was literally a wooden chair. His routine was a bit sad, but more so confusing. Overall, it just made me happy that Obamacare filled the donut hole in his prescription plan. Unfortunately, Dirty Harry looked more like Curmudgeonly Clint. 


Grade:  D+ (only because I loved “Unforgiven”)



          Sigh. Photo courtesy of God


Actress, math whiz, author, and fellow Bruin Danica McKellar spoke at the DNC, but her commentary wasn’t broadcast on the big news networks. Who cares? SHE’S WINNIE FRICKIN’ COOPER!


Grade: A+++


Winner: Democrats. (Uh, hello, did I not just mention every boy’s childhood love? WINNIE COOPER, ‘nuff said.)  


Round 2:  Latino vs. Latino


In this round, the Republican’s rising star, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, squared off against hotshot Democrat, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro (who was the first Latino ever to make the keynote address at a DNC). It was like both parties looked around one day and said, “Uh oh, we better diversify our portfolio” and then quickly put a brown face front and center.


Both speakers were dynamic, inspiring, and of course, told a tale of their family’s immigration to the country. Rubio’s dad was a bartender and Castro’s grandma cleaned houses. Both eerily made almost the same identical comment about American mobility, with Rubio saying how his dad worked in the back so his son could speak in the front one day, and Castro retorting with “my grandma held a mop so I could hold this microphone.”


Rubio has a spectacularly square jaw befitting his past as a football player, but just an awful haircut that looks like he hasn’t changed his perfect part/combover combo since his elementary school class picture.  



Florida Senator Marco Rubio and his razor sharp part win the Great Latino Speakoff of 2012.

Photo courtesy of Rubio's facebook.


Castro started a bit slow, but roared to the finish line. Too bad, he’s got a creepy always-smiling smile (the newbie politician’s “Don’t pinch me, I’m just so happy to be here” smile) and even creepier -- a twin brother who's also in politics trailing him around, making K-PoP think he drank too much on a weekday. Also, Castro over-mimics (copies) the President’s speaking style, down to the clenched fist, thumb point, and paused head swivels. 



The Castro brothers. Oh wait, that's actually Tomax and Xamot, the evil twins from GI Joe.


Rubio grade:  A


Castro grade:  B+


Winner: Republicans. In the Great Latino Speakoff of 2012, the Cuban Rubio defeats Castro because his delivery is earnest but less needy than his opponent. Trust K-PoP, all these guys have seen the 2004 Obama playbook and know that one great speech can catapult them into a bulletproof limo surrounded by guys with little earpieces. They all want the crown but have to act like they don’t, and that is hard to do when you’re being watched by an adoring crowd, your fawning mom, and all those meanies who shunned you in high school.  



Round 3:  Pitbull vs. Strongman


In every political fight, every candidate has to bring along a guy (or gal) to do some of the dirty work, the heavy lifting, capiche? Consider this job the way you’d consider the goon in hockey. It ain’t pretty, but someone has to protect your team’s Wayne Gretzky, right?


The Elephants rolled out (oh my God, that was totally unintended comedy, I swear!) New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who has one of the most hip-hoppest names ever in politics. The Donkeys struck back with Deval Patrick, the man who replaced Republican candidate Mitt Romney as Governor of Massachusetts.


Both came to the party with brass knuckles and baseball hats, swinging away at Obamacare and Bain Capitol, the stagnant economy, and abortion rights. The cool part was that you could tell that both men enjoy the hitman role and instinctively know that in every super hero movie, the best role always goes to the villain.  


In his delivery, Patrick is a soldier’s soldier, an unrelenting, firsthand witness, and most importantly, always On Message.


Christie bats for Romney for about 15% of his remarks. The rest he treats as a job interview for 2016.


Patrick grade:  A


Christie grade:  C –


Winner:  Democrats due to Message Consistency and Teamwork. 



Round 4:  Spouse vs. Spouse


This really wasn’t a fair fight.  Anne Romney has never had to speak to an audience of 30+ million people in hopes of getting her husband a job. Michelle Obama’s been First Lady for four years and her playoff experience showed.  


Mrs. Romney tried her best to speak to her party’s base in a folksy and common manner, but her millionaire hardships felt forced and oversold. I guess it’s hard to fake hungry in an $8000 dress. Plus, she over-stares at the camera and her smile is a tad awkward if not Jack-O-Lantern-ish. 


Michelle Obama’s speech, in K-PoP’s opinion, was the best of either convention. She already had above a 60% approval rating and might have gone up another ten points with her epic oration. She talked about family, love, duty -- and did so in a way that evoked trust and dedication, even getting to that transcendent point a speaker may get only once or twice in a lifetime, where it seemed like she was channeling a higher power. She even did that voice quiver, lip tremble thing President Obama did way back in Denver 2008 when he made his first party nomination acceptance speech.  


Mrs. Obama’s speech was so good, it could rocket her into the Senate (if not the White House again), almost broke twitter, and made a lot of people say, “I wish SHE was running for President!”  


In short, it was like bringing a knife to a gunfight. Or an apple to a bacon contest.  


Mrs. Romney grade: C+


Mrs. Obama grade:  A+ 


Winner:  Democrats by a landslide. 


Round 5:  The Nominee vs. The President


Secretary of State and former Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton once said, “You campaign in poetry, but govern in prose.”


President Obama must have taken that line to heart because his speech was understated and reserved. Perhaps it was the sluggish economy, or a strategy to let his teammates hype up his resume for him, or dare I ask, has Obama lost a step and gone from #23 Michael Jordan to #45 Jordan?  


Not sure, but he did have one zinger when he said: “I’m no longer just a candidate. I’m the President.”


He said it in a humble tone and still the convention crowd went B-A-N-A-N-A-S. Though it was a simple statement, it was also a sly, very hip-hop declaration. Like when LL Cool J called himself the GOAT (the Greatest of All Time), 44 was letting it be known that HE was the POTUS, and like in boxing, if you want the belt you have to knock the champ out to take it. 



      Governor Mitt Romney arrives at the RNC.

        Oh wait, that's not him, that's Robocop.


Romney is so uncomfortable on stage, K-PoP gets uncomfortable at home watching him. He has awkward pauses and sports this new expressionless expression when waiting out his applause lines. And is it me, or does it seem like Romney is one of the bank robbers from “Point Break” and is actually wearing a Romney mask of himself when speaking in public? How meta is that?  


The sad/great thing for the Republicans is that this was one of Romney’s better, more humanizing speeches and he improved to the point where he was only wooden (like Clint’s chair) and not lead.


Obama grade:  B+ (but if you strategically want a B+ speech and get it, is that then an A? Am I over-thinking this? Do I love phở? Yes to both!)


Romney:  Any other speaker would earn a C for that performance, but Robo Romney gets a Romney ‘B -.’ It’s kind of like the opposite of an Asian ‘F’ but for robots.  


Winner: Obama and the Democrats in points, but with no definitive knockout. 



Bonus Round:  Ex-President vs. Ex-President


The party of Roosevelt brought out Bubba. Lincoln’s party brought out Dubya. Actually, they kept him hidden, possibly in a galaxy far, far away. Or maybe just his ranch in Crawford, Texas.


President Clinton delighted the crowd, going aww shucks folksy at times, and then wonky numbers guy at others, but always sticking to the message and backing Obama while talking/promoting himself in the way only he can.


Clinton grade:  A


Bush grade:  Absent


Winner: Democrats donkey punch the Republicans. 


In this intense game of 5-on-5, the Democrats took four speeches.  But with this economy stuck in mud and college graduates staring at their fading Obama posters while still living at home with their parents, this contest is still up in air. Perhaps it will come down to the three Presidential debates and if so, K-PoP will be there to grade those, too.  



K-PoP is short for Ky-Phong on Pop Culture. Ky-Phong Tran is an award-winning writer and teacher based in southern California and he’ll be writing about music, art, literature, Los Angeles, fatherhood, and other musings.


Ky-Phong Tran


Ky-Phong Tran is a public school, latch-key kid from North Long Beach, CA. He's written for the Nguoi Viet Daily News, New America Media, the Orange County Register, the San Francisco Chronicle, and of course, Hyphen, which published his short story "A Thing Called Exodus." In 2010, he was a Work-Study Fiction Scholar at the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference. He holds an MA in Asian American Studies from UCLA and MFA in Creative Writing from UC Riverside. He's into pop culture, street art, music festivals, literature, clever people, and keen ideas.



"Dirty Harry looked more like Curmudgeonly Clint." . Clint is no spring chicken, but he brings a load of memories with him. He's no comedian, he joked off the cuff and he did amuse. In a dark alley, Clint is one man you'd want to be walking next to you. . "Republicans. In the Great Latino Speakoff of 2012, the Cuban Rubio defeats Castro" . Rubio, like Reagan before him *believes* in what he says and that gives him weight many in politics lack. I am glad Rubio didn't go for or get the VP slot, a few more years in the Senate will age him nicely. . "Mrs. Romney tried her best to speak to her party’s base in a folksy and common manner, but her millionaire hardships felt forced and oversold. I guess it’s hard to fake hungry in an $8000 dress. Plus, she over-stares at the camera and her smile is a tad awkward if not Jack-O-Lantern-ish. " . The Romneys are not public people by nature. While Mitt does big things, at heart he seems to be a quiet family man. A little like Eastwood, he'd get the bad guy then go quietly on his way. As for dresses. Michelle Obama gets hers at Goodwill? Let us not forget, the Obamas are millionaires and their kids do not go to the local public schools. . "Christie bats for Romney for about 15% of his remarks. The rest he treats as a job interview for 2016." . It was reported that Christie was told to tone it down and not give Obama a fat lip. Pity, Christie is at his best when he runs free and gives fat lips. . "President Clinton delighted the crowd" . It has been said Theodore Roosevelt was always the bride at the wedding and the corpse at the funeral and when it comes to ego Bill Clinton is probably TR's only match. Sad thing is, he buried Barack Obama exhibiting a command of thought and verbosity Obama could not hope to match. The message: I am here to drag Obama's azz out of the fire. Ya did good Bill, ya did good. I was never a big Clinton fan, but I found myself enjoying his tear. . "Winner: Obama and the Democrats in points, but with no definitive knockout. " . Obama essentially told the women of America they're pretty hopeless without him. They shouldn't over estimate themselves and they really need him to save them. So much for feminism. Obama did a best of 2008 speech and he sounded more like he was doing his own golden oldies. P.S.- Deval Patrick is just Obama Lite. . "Romney: Any other speaker would earn a C for that performance, but Robo Romney gets a Romney ‘B -.’ It’s kind of like an Asian ‘F’ but for robots. " . Romney is a technician. You want him for his skills, get a dog if you need a hug. Romney in a few interviews showed a sharp mind that takes apart problems, understands the difficulties and quickly propose solutions A very very valuable quality in this era.. . My assessment? Democrats- D, few solutions, lots of emotionalism. Republicans- C, not many solutions, Romney's failure to go after Obama.