Gauthier: Hold the applause

Deborah E. Gauthier, Daily News columnist

A recent Associated Press article reported that former Massachusetts governor and now presidential hopeful Mitt Romney gave a speech to about 3,000 high school kids in Michigan earlier this week. The story noted the students seemed "generally receptive to his family values message, despite silence at several standard applause lines."

Oh yes, those applause lines; that pregnant pause political speechwriters insert into speeches, a silent nudge to members of the audience to clap in appreciation for whatever the speechifier just said.

Come on, kids. Get with the program. Put your hands together...

What? Why should you applaud, especially if you don't agree with what was said? Good question. I wish there was a good answer. The truth is there isn't a logical answer. The illogical answer is politicians expect it, so we do it.

Fishing for applause has become a kind of art form. Stephen Colbert, Washington correspondent for Comedy Central, says that if you slow your speech down and pump up the last words of a sentence, anything you say will get applause.

Members of the audience listening to a president's state of the union address spend more time applauding than listening. That audience, mind you, consists mostly of members of Congress, and it's a fact there's usually no love lost between presidents and members of Congress. Yet everyone applauds at the appropriate times. Sometimes, they even gave the ultimate praise - a standing ovation.


Beats me.

It's not just at the national level, either.

On Tuesday night, Boston Mayor Tom Menino gave his state of the city address. I listened for a while, but most of what I heard was applause. "My wife is my inspiration," said the mayor. Applause. OK. She deserves it.

And there was applause when he mentioned the men and women fighting for this country in Iraq, Afghanistan and other foreign lands. Another appropriate break for applause.

But the city's new poet laureate, the speaker of the house, the statue of Martin Luther King ... Well, I'm sorry. Nice people, nice ideas, but there should come a time, earlier rather than later in important speeches, where the person making the speech gets down to business and says what he or she has to say uninterrupted.

Major speeches broken up by applause has become so commonplace that national pundits keep track.

The president's last state of the union address was interrupted by applause about 60 times. Here's one short paragraph in that speech:

"First we must balance the federal budget. (Applause.) We can do so without raising taxes. (Applause.) What we need to do is impose spending discipline in Washington, D.C. (Applause.) Now let us take the next step. In the coming weeks, I will submit a budget that eliminates the federal deficit within the next five years. (Applause.) I ask you to make the same commitment. Together, we can restrain the spending appetite of the federal government, and we can balance the federal budget. (Applause.)

No wonder those speeches take so long. And no wonder we have a hard time following the threads of important information scattered throughout those speeches. One can't keep focus when the train of thought is interrupted.

The state of the union address this year, scheduled for Jan. 28 at 9 p.m., should be interesting. Even the most optimistic person in the world, even a man like our current president who has led with his head in the sand, can see this country is mired in military and economic troubles.

The bad news, of course, will be softened by vague proposals that someone believes will make things better. Energy costs are high, but we've a plan ... Inflation is becoming a problem, but we've a plan ... Health care costs ... we've a plan. Iraq ... we've a plan. Iran ... we've a plan. Palestine ... we've a plan. AIDS ... we've a plan ...

Put your hands together. ...

Deb Gauthier can be reached at

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