Cocktail Banter, Episode 5: Political Rhetoric vs Political Reality

Cocktail Banter connects you with the best of politics and pop culture. It’s the podcast that gives you everything you need to know to be in the know.

This week, we’re talking with Barton Swaim, the author of The Speechwriter. A review in The Washington Post described the book as a cross between Veep and All the King’s Men, "an entertaining and engrossing book not just about the absurdities of working in the press shop of a Southern governor but also about the meaning of words in public life.” 

Barton served as the speechwriter for South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, whom you probably remember for that infamous “hiking the Appalachian trail” press conference.

In a recent Washington Post column, Barton wrote this, which struck a chord with me: "An effective politician, let’s remember, is someone who has found success at convincing large numbers of people that he or she, rather than someone else, possesses sufficient sagacity and strength of character to solve some complicated set of problems. Give me power, the politician says to us, because I am honest and compassionate and capable. Without ever making it so crassly explicit, that is what it takes to win elections. Which ought to make us ask ourselves: What sort of person would do that? And why on Earth would I trust him with more power or put her name on my bumper?"

In our conversation, Barton and I discuss the dilemma we face as we search for a politician who will take a stand based on principles, regardless of the outcome or the personal cost. Even when a politician might seem to fit that description, he or she is still reliant upon the approval of the electorate to stay in office. So how should we gauge political speech? (12:40, 21:00)

He also shares his thoughts about Trump, the candidate who is lauded – like Sanford – for saying it like it is. (25:30)

And he gives us advice about how to decode political speech in the midst of this election season. (27:00)

Check out The Speechwriter and then continue the conversation by connecting with Barton on Twitter.