Thursday, August 4, 2016

Hillary's Voice

Hillary Clinton's speaking voice when addressing large crowds is something of a disaster. I know I am not alone in this opinion. Early on in the primaries there were a number of articles. Just last weekend on MSNBC both Chuck Todd and Jonathan Alter referred to her troubles, yelling at crowds as if she wasn't holding a microphone in her hand. No "modulation", etc. I've wondered about this particular voice she uses and how it plays into the ears of even the micro-misogynists who hear it, much less the full-bore sexists. They, doubtless, as I do, associate it with the voice she used in the past to yell at Bill.

Voices get a lot of play in presidential campaigns, especially this one, where Donald Trump declared at the GOP convention, "I am your voice." Though superficial, voice problems have crippled careers. The once rising great non-white hope of the Republican party, Bobby Jindal, for instance: His Waterloo took place at the site of his great triumph, selected to give the GOP reply following the first Barack Obama State of the Union address in 2009. It was universally panned.

But, I had always presumed, since some of the criticism focused on the speech's "delivery", that the problem was that Jindal was likely having some cosmetic work done on his voice, in an attempt to rid himself of the traces of his pronounced ethnic accent. In other words, I speculated he was undergoing some voice lessons that hadn't yet concluded. He was in a mid-voice-change moment and, boy, did it seem odd. Now, Jindal speaks with the American equivalent of BBC English. You can hear the difference over the years on You Tube, not that it matters anymore.

Part of the problem is the continuing degradation of journalism, especially television's version. Take the more or less universal praise of the Trump children, each shilling for their father at the GOP convention. Many commentators were handing out participation trophies to them, since it was all about public speaking. We've gone from a literate world to an oral one. No reporting about the kids' histories marred the surface presentation. And, as Joe Biden would say, they were all certainly "clean".

In Hillary's case it seems to be a matter of audience. Also on the web you can listen to her speech at Wellesley in 1969. That voice she used then, though not to a crowd in the thousands, only in the low three figures, is certainly modulated. Wellesley put out an edited recording of that speech, often referred to in biographies, leaving out her mild criticism of Edward Brooke, the first black Senator, a Republican, elected by popular vote, who was on stage with her. Hillary Rodham knew her audience, took them as equals, her fellow students and their parents.

When she talks to large crowds, the masses more or less, I don't think she sees them as equals. They are not intimates, folk she necessarily respects. They are the ones she shouts at. Bill Clinton, of course, as a public speaker, has intimacy in his voice in spades. It's his philanderer voice, as if each person in the crowd is important, because he is trolling the audience for a conquest. All that biting of his lip business. Rodham Clinton doesn't have such remarked-upon mannerisms. Hillary isn't looking for conquests. But she should.

To throngs at rallies her high-pitched delivery is a louder version of her exasperation voice, highlighted during the Benghazi hearings, when she exclaimed, "What difference does it make?", now a favorite attack line employed by the Republican right smear machine.

Unfortunately, when it comes to making history as the first woman major party nominee to the presidency, it's not quite pure, unadulterated history. It's in the Lurleen Wallace mode, George Wallace's wife, who became the governor of Alabama in 1967, after George was term-limited out. Other American political wives have gained office in this manner. We'll all have to wait for a woman to become president whose husband hasn't been there before.

Nonetheless, it surprises me, even at this point, that Hillary's speaking voice hasn't been addressed by anyone in her circle. She, too, could have used some voice lessons. But a chilling fact is that it is possible no one around her is brave enough to tell the candidate she should do something about it.

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