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Tim Borchers letter: Allow voters to decide how to judge candidates

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean's speech following his third place finish in the Iowa Caucuses Jan. 19 not only ignited his large, enthusiastic audience, but it has ignited a national firestorm as well.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean's speech following his third place finish in the Iowa Caucuses Jan. 19 not only ignited his large, enthusiastic audience, but it has ignited a national firestorm as well.

Dean's fiery speech has been replayed on news programs and late night talk shows. Reporters have commented that it has been "the moment" of the campaign. While President Bush's State of the Union speech has faded from the headlines, Dean's speech still had "legs," according to a Jan. 21 article in The Forum, until the end of the week.

Incidentally, much media coverage of Dean's speech failed to capture the context in which it occurred. Dean was addressing more than 3,500 excited volunteers who dedicated their weekend to becoming active in politics.

While Dean's speech may seem out of place in today's world, previous political orators relied on this style to inflame their audiences. For example, William Jennings Bryan's "Cross of Gold" speech at the 1896 Democratic convention reportedly made his audience delirious and hysterical.

The nature of television has made politics more intimate today, however. A more conversational style is often used today since speakers have amplification and television technology to transmit their messages. So, instead of being lauded for his ability to fire up the Iowa crowd, Dean has been lambasted for seeming to be "unpresidential."

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We have come to expect a reserved, casual and intimate conversation between candidates and voters instead of the fiery oratory of years past. This has now become the standard by which we judge political speech.

Since Dean violated the "rules" of campaigning with his speech, he has been fair game for the news media.

The problem is that we've come to accept the standards set by the media as rigid, inflexible, and permanent. We, as voters, don't challenge those standards, reporters uncritically apply those standards, and politicians try at all costs to live up to those standards.

What's needed from voters and reporters is a more critical evaluation of the standards used to determine a candidate's viability. Politicians should use their authentic voice, whatever that may be.

The Democratic primary won't be finalized by the time North Dakota and Minnesota voters get their chance in upcoming caucuses. By studying the issues and voting our conscience, we can make the best decision about which candidate should lead our nation.

Borchers, Ph.D., teaches classes in rhetoric, persuasion and public address at Minnesota State University Moorhead. He is the author of the book, "Persuasion in the Media Age."

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