The PoliBlog

The Collective
Monday, October 22, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

In commenting on Kevin Drum’s lament concerning “prepackaged zingers” in debates, James Joyner noted an oldpost of mine from 2003 (in the first month of my blogging career, in fact) in which I noted that the most important thing to understand about a given speech (and these debates are nothing more than mini-speeches) is how good the sound bites are (as that is the part of a given speech that most people will hear and remember). I refined that notion in in this post wherein I referred to it as Taylor’s Iron Law of Political Speeches (because, like all good political scientists, I want my own Iron Law).

At any rate, in reading James’ post, I realized that I confirmed my own theoretical proposition today, because the only portion of the debate that I heard and remembered was McCain’s line about being a POW during Woodstock (James has the video at the link above), which is the zinger that caused Kevin to write the post in the first place.

So, while I understand why Kevin doesn’t like the prepackaged zingers, the bottom line is: they work. They increase the odds that the sound bite will be played on the radio or TV (I heard the clip on NPR this morning) and that the listener will pay attention and remember the statement. It is a win-win, even if a bit corny. As such, Kevin better gets used to them, as they aren’t going anywhere–kind of like negative campaign commercials.

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Filed under: US Politics, 2008 Campaign | |


  1. I think this point was made in some debates; I don’t have time to keep up: ragging on Hillary’s $5k/child birth bonus. Yeah, it sounds like pandering, but not in context compared to the existing and now long-standing and unchallenged 1k/child/year tax credit (on top of the usual deduction.) Why should we do that either, or why not the bonus and not so much doled out every single year after that until they are 18 (18/5 times Hillary’s bonus?) We need to remind the Republicans and the public about this, if for no other reason than basic honesty.

    Comment by Neil B. — Monday, October 22, 2007 @ 8:36 pm

  2. Should a “principled” politician really have to rely on such tactics? And shouldn’t a “principled” voter disqualify anyone that doesn’t stand on that principle, rather than a good 10-sec. speech writer.

    Comment by Talmadge East — Tuesday, October 23, 2007 @ 10:17 am

  3. All politicians rely on sound bites.

    Heck, think about what you know about any speech of significance, be it the Gettysburg address, FDR’s inaugurals, Reagan before the Berlin Wall. What do you really know about any of those speeches? Specific quotes, that’s what (i.e., sound bites).

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Tuesday, October 23, 2007 @ 10:51 am

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