The Best of Andy Rooney

(This classic Andy Rooney column was originally published Oct. 25, 1984.)

One of the most depressing thoughts of my life came to me when I was 38. I realized that I'd never be anything but what I was. I'd never be more, never less.

Before that thought came to me, I'd always imagined that by trying harder, studying and gaining experience, I'd be able to improve myself and become more than I had ever been before. Over the years, I've been so persistently myself, for better or for worse, that the dream I'd had of being more than that faded and I became reconciled to being only what I am. It isn't bad, but it isn't good enough, either.

That's what I think about during Presidential debates. These two candidates are as trapped with who they are as the rest of us. They have only their own personalities, their own intelligence or lack of it, their own virtues and their own defects. No amount of makeup or preparation can conceal their true selves from us. We see through all their attempts to convince us that they're more than they are. It isn't bad, but it isn't good enough, either.

More than for most of us, it's necessary for politicians to try to convince people that they're better than they are. In order to get elected, they have to make believe they're smarter and more capable than we are. Voters don't want ordinary people, flawed people like themselves, as their leaders. We need to be convinced the people we vote for are extraordinary even when they're not.

One of the ways politicians try to convince us that they're better than they are is by giving speeches that have been written by someone else. It's the most common form of political deception. (When I hear a political speech, I think occasionally of John Hylan, mayor of New York many years ago, when he was giving a speech that had been written for him but which he hadn't had time to read in advance. The writer had put a joke in the speech and the mayor saw the punch line coming and started laughing so hard before he read it aloud to the audience that it was minutes before he could continue.)

We all know that the candidates' speeches are written by someone else and yet when one of them stands before us and gives it, we are fooled. We temporarily accept it as his or her own.

It seems wrong for anyone to say things in public that have been written by someone else. There ought to be a law that every speech should have a byline attached to it. ("The President's speech tonight was written by...")

A speech by a potential or actual President shouldn't be a lot of words or ideas cleverly strung together by a professional writer. A speech that pretends to be the actual words and thoughts of a candidate should be exactly that.

The written speech may account for why so many Americans are disappointed with their candidates, no matter which ones they are, in Presidential debates. None of them measures up in their ad-lib answers to questions, to the way we're used to hearing them in their written speeches. Where are those quotable phrases? Where is the clear, progressive logic and the smooth transition from one subject to the next?

The debates are a good thing because the candidates are revealed to us only as big or as good or as equal or unequal to the challenge as they really are. On the occasions, during the debates, when they remember bits and pieces of previously written word arrangements, they sound like just that.

In the debates, there's no hiding place. The candidates are out from behind their written speeches where all of us can see them. We can see, for instance, that like us, they are mortal men...and mortal women.

They don't dare let us know, of course, but I suspect that, like the rest of us, they wish they could be more than they are.

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