Music, Silence, and Candidates
In many world societies, however, there are still spaces—if only interior, or metaphorical, or temporal—set aside for contemplation, for noiseless recalibration of the soul, and in contemporary American culture there are almost none. Our social rituals are constrained by the incessant soundtrack imposed in our public spaces, and our places of worship, by and large, have given themselves over to a muzak-based sense of liturgy that tells us at every step of the way what to feel and with what intensity.
I think this is why I no longer listen to candidates.
Oh I am interested in what they think, and what they do, and how they might govern, but I no longer consider any sounds that they make a reliable guide. Their sounds are muzak, designed to elicit emotion and muzzle thought. And as Rick pointed out the other day, good campaigns are about emotion, brilliant campaigns about “grudges.”
Debates are a bit better. At least in those the performers have to show some improvisational skill. But debate formats limit those moments to a few sharp licks. No extended solos, please, where you might really show your stuff (or ramble your way to nowhere and then slink back to the chorus).
Again from Waggoner:
For us to be able to enter the world that music creates for us, we need a silence within which to listen.
Put the political sounds down in writing and I am happier. In a quiet setting, or even some noisy ones, I have time to think about the words, to detach them away from their delivery and their accompaniment, and consider what they mean. Interviews are even better. I actually learned something about Hillary Clinton from this Salon interview (subscription may be required.) It gave me a glimpse of what she thinks and how she reasons. Idealized to be sure. But having it on paper—or in my computer at least—allows me to the space consider what the ideal may reveal about the reality.
Why bother with these things? With rare exception, these set pieces are composed to minimize communication by the distribution of a few plucky facts in a 1000 strings of emotion. So I don’t listen any more, even to those politicians I respect.
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Maarja Krusten - 8/21/2007
Interesting essay. I can't comment on candidates, of course, but was intrigued by the fact that you mentioned a preference for reading rather than listening to speeches. I wonder if that has something to do with Myers-Briggs typing. I've mentioned in past postings on HNN the article Jonathan Rauch wrote about "Caring for Your Introvert," available at
I came up as an Introvert in MBTI when I was tested years ago. Typically for an Introvert, I love curling up with a good book. I don't need to have things summarized for me in executive "one-pagers" or flashed on a screen as PowerPoint bullets or summarized in oral briefings. I'm happy to delve into subjects in depth in long books and articles. (The length of my posted comments on HNN admittedly might be a weakness sometimes -- although I often discuss arcane archival stuff which I assume most people have not previously considered in depth.)
I remember during one period of my life when I was struggling with various difficult and complex issues during the workday, I sank gratefully into Michael Beschloss's 600 page book about Kennedy and Khruschev at the end of the day, that was relaxing for me. A different person might have sought relaxation in music or tv. Myers Briggs explains to some extent why people make different choices.
As for silence, when I spent all day listening to Nixon's taped conversations at work, I never put the radio or TV on a soon as I got home. I always welcomed a period of silence and decompression. Even now, I enjoy going for walks but rarely take along my Ipod, although I love classical music. Until I learned about Myers Briggs, I sometimes wondered why some people I knew had the TV or radio constantly running in their homes. I think since more people are Extroverts rather than Introverts, it's not surprising that the places that draw crowds, such as restaurants, malls, etc, assume that background music is desirable and welcome.
Long ago, in another job, I once had an executive (long since retired) tell me that he sometimes needed and welcomed quiet thinking time during his over-scheduled day. I understood what he meant. Richard Nixon seemed to carve out thinking time in his schedule while President, also.
Again, thanks for an interesting essay.
HNN - 8/20/2007
Nice post Oscar.
Listening to a speech by a pol today is usually an inducement to (fill in the blank) ______.
What a diference with yesteryear.
A few years back a friend gave me a boxed set of presidential recordings from the LC.
I was listening to FDR and Truman last week. Their speeches still stir. FDR was explaining the bank holiday and Truman delivering his acceptance address. You'd have thought they were still president so vividly did their speeches resonate.
Today whose do?
- David Hackett Fischer wins $100,000 prize for lifetime achievement in military writing
- Russian historian slams Putin
- Historians and archivists say the NY Public Library no longer functions as a world-class research library
- WaPo chastised for ignoring Venona Papers in obit for Allen Weinstein
- In gay marriage decision, Supreme Court turns to historians for insight