WITH the presidential campaign finally in full swing, it...

Salmagundi

September 17, 1992

WITH the presidential campaign finally in full swing, it is tim to refresh our memories on key political phrases. These two are from "William Safire's Political Dictionary":

GIVE 'EM HELL, HARRY: a Truman battle cry in 1948, now used to characterize a slugging campaign.

Enthusiasm for Harry Truman's candidacy was lacking among Democrats early in the 1948 campaign; signs at the convention read: "I'm just mild about Harry."

On September 17, as he began barnstorming the country. . . Truman recalls he told his running mate, Alben Barkley: "I'm going to fight hard. I'm going to give them hell." As he ripped into the "gluttons of privilege". . . and the DO-NOTHING CONGRESS, the crowds responded to the scrappiness of the underdog with welcome interruptions of "Give 'em hell, Harry!"

"I never give them hell," Truman smiled as he reviewed his technique in 1956. "I just tell the truth, and they think it is hell."

THE SPEECH: the standard stump speech developed during a campaign, compressing all the best issues and punch lines into a single adaptable package.

When the speech begins, reporters roll up their eyes and put away their pencils; they have heard it a hundred times. It contains the applause-pulling and laugh-getting lines of a dozen other speeches made in the same campaign by the same candidate. The difference is that it is not a television speech, with the necessity for new material; it is this particular candidate's particular gospel, refined to a rhythm comfortable for him, edited by practice and crowd reaction, punching away at the issues with pet phrases ("that do-nothing 80th Congress. . . I think we have to get America moving again. . .")

A half-dozen writers may write speeches, but nobody, not even the candidate, writes what politicians call the speech. It seems to evolve by itself, and is carried around like sourdough to mix in with local jokes, timely references to newsbreaks and deferences to local party politicians.

When a candidate does not have the speech by the end of a campaign, he has not figured out in his own mind what the campaign was really all about.

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