Ann Richards (1933-2006) was governor of Texas from 1991-1995. When Ann Richards was elected State Treasurer in 1982, she was the first woman elected to statewide office in Texas since “Ma” Ferguson (Miriam Amanda Wallace) who was the first female Governor of Texas (1925 -1927). Richards was reelected in 1986, unopposed, and then ran for governor in 1990. She came to national prominence with this keynote speech from the 1988 Democratic National Convention. In her 1994 reelection campaign, she unfortunately lost to George W. Bush, the son of the presidential candidate she’d skewered in 1988.
As a student of Communications, I had to analyze a famous speech. I chose one by one of my favorite politicians, the late Ann Richards of Texas. This Keynote Address was delivered at the 1988 Democratic National Convention in my hometown of Atlanta, Georgia. Republican George H.W. Bush was running against Democrat Michael Dukakis for President.
Who doesn’t remember Ann’s famous remark about George Bush: “Poor George, he can’t help it…he was born with a silver foot in his mouth.” Ann Richards talks what she calls “straight talk” with heart, humor, intelligence, compassion, a firm grasp of the facts, and the ability to separate fallacy from reality. The State of Texas has not seen her equal in the governor’s chair since.
Although Ann Richards is best remembered as the longtime governor of Texas, at the time of this presentation, she was the state treasurer of Texas and a still few years away from being elected governor. Her vitality and outrageousness are in full display in this speech. At that time, Ann was only the second woman ever to give a keynote speech at the DNC (Democratic National Convention), and she remarks upon that fact at the beginning of the speech by remembering fellow Texan Barbara Jordan’s 1976 keynote address. “Two women in 160 years is about par for the course” was how she summed it up in her dry humor that spoke directly to women and their unequal place in politics.
In her opening, she included a good evening in Spanish (unusual for the times) quickly followed by this line: “After listening to George Bush all these years, I figured you needed to know what a real Texan sounds like.” This got a big laugh from the audience, but spoke to her recognition and inclusiveness of another culture. Her speech was designed to unite the crowd, remind them of the party’s noble goals, acknowledge the party’s nominees and serve as a major salvo against the opposing party’s candidate.
Richards satisfied all those roles, while taking the attack on the opposition to another level through the use of her dry humor, quick wit, vocal variety, gestures and folksy Texas style. Her words paint a vivid picture that clearly depicts the plight of hard working Americans that had been ‘left behind’ by a political party that cared more for special interests than working class America. A party that was satisifed with the status quo instead of the notion that “we can do better”. She uses analogies and personal stories to drive her point’s home in a way that every American can understand and relate to.
Some things that Ann did exactly right were:
- Her speech and delivery were a reflection of HER – Ann did not try to hide her Texas accent, her Texas roots, or her sense of humor – she embraced them. This made her delivery authentic and instead of automatic.
- Ann used her voice to empathize her points. The use of inflections, well placed pauses, and long drawn out syllables gave this presentation a symphony of vocal variety. For example – a one point she mentions that she is now a grandmother with a nearly perfect granddaughter. Only what you hear is “neeeeeeeeeeerly” perfect granddaughter” – the extension of the “e” brings laughter and keeps the line from being overly sentimental. I connected with this in regards to my own grandchildren, who I think are also “neeeeeeeeeeerly” perfect, lol.
- The use of props (visual aides) kept her words real. For example, when she brings out a letter from a young mother, and actually holds up a page and reads from it, I felt that this was authentic and specific evidence that supported Ann’s claims. Disregarding the teleprompter, she turns away from the perfect camera angle when reading the letter. This action alone, a tangible and simple tactic, makes the letter seem more genuine.
- Ann spoke TO the crowd and not ATthem. The statement that we need leaders that tell the truth all the time speaks to the ethical responsibilities that every speaker holds but many politicians today do not adhere to. She held the audience in the palm of her hand.
Although this speech is from 1988, her points are still valid and of great concern to America today. In my opinion, Democrats missed a great opportunity when they nominated Dukakis for President instead of Ann Richards.
Watch this amazing speech here:
“They blame the low income women for ruining the country because they are staying home with their children and not going out to work. They blame the middle income women for ruining the country because they go out to work and do not stay home to take care of their children.” ~ Ann Richards