America recently marked the sesquicentennial of a landmark speech delivered by a president who served during arguably the nation’s worst period.
The Gettysburg Address was delivered in less than 10 minutes on Nov. 19, 1863 by a rangy politician by the name of Abraham Lincoln.
He spoke the words — all 269 of them — on a Pennsylvania field where tens of thousands of Americans died in what has been called the most decisive battle of the American Civil War.
Brevity was the norm in the pre-television age. Garrulousness is the norm today.
Could a president, or any politician for that matter, deliver a speech like the Gettysburg Address today? I doubt it. Seriously.
Near the end of his remarks, Lincoln said that the world would remember little of what would be said on that “hallowed ground.” He was mistaken. The world remembers. Indeed, some folks today have made it their mission to memorize the entire speech. Maybe I should try that.
The contrast between then and now is remarkable in at least one sense. Technology has produced live images that people can see far from where politicians are making their remarks. Politicians know the world is watching when they take the floor. Few of them are able to resist to the opportunity to take full advantage of the exposure.
My favorite example of that involves the current vice president of the United States, Joe Biden.
Biden once served in the U.S. Senate. He chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee. In 2006, President George W. Bush nominated Samuel Alito to a spot on the U.S. Supreme Court. Biden’s committee was tasked with conducting confirmation hearings on Alito’s nomination. Protocol allowed senators 30 minutes to question the nominee.
I recall during the hearing, watching it on CNN, that when it came for Biden to question Alito, the network put a clock on Biden, who then proceeded to make a speech for 28 minutes before he questioned Alito. Time allowed for one question and one response.
Sen. Biden was so smitten with the opportunity to speak — and to be heard by millions of Americans — that he gave a nominee to the highest court in the land next to zero time to have his own voice heard.
I’m trying to imagine such a thing happening in Lincoln’s time.
The 16th president’s monumental speech took no time at all to deliver … and yet it stands for all time.