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Five Minutes


That's how much time every member of the US House of Representatives will get to speak on the resolution opposing Bush's ill-conceived escalation of the US presence in Iraq. It was proposed by Rep Ike Skelton (D-MO 4), chair of the House Armed Services Committee, Tom Lantos (D-CA 12), and Walter Jones (R-NC 3), and the rules of debate will give five minutes to each member of the House, as they take up this resolution over the next three days.

The full text of this short resolution [pdf] is a mere two clauses in a single sentence:

Disapproving of the decision of the President announced on January 10, 2007, to deploy more than 20,000 additional United States combat troops to Iraq.

Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring), That—
(1) Congress and the American people will continue to support and protect the members of the United States Armed Forces who are serving or who have served bravely and honorably in Iraq; and
(2) Congress disapproves of the decision of President George W. Bush announced on January 10, 2007, to deploy more than 20,000 additional United States combat troops to Iraq.

The order of speaking is still being worked out, as the leadership tries to accomodate time zones and media deadlines, not to mention status and seniority and congressional egos. It should be quite the debate, as it kicks off tomorrow, and while three days is an extraordinarily long debate for any topic, each member only gets five minutes.

When I listen to the Republicans, I'll be especially attentive to see who does and does not voice displeasure with the White House, and how they choose to do so. Bush is done running for office, but most of the members of the House are already looking ahead to their next election in 2008. As the voters in district after district are turning away from escalation, nervous Republicans are looking over their shoulders. They can look around at the new faces in town – and remember the old ones that are missing – and wonder "am I next?"

As for the Democrats, I fully expect to see TRex's three pronged rhetorical strategy played out in full glory. Various speakers may have their own unique approaches, but I am sure we'll see numerous examples of what TRex first outlined here at FDL in June 2006:

NEVER defend.

NEVER explain.


A year ago, it was Jack Murtha taking on the whole Republican caucus. Tomorrow, I'm guessing a couple hundred other Democrats will be speaking right along side him.

Five minutes is not a long time, especially for politicians who tend toward long-windedness. In five minutes, a representative can't say everything, and shouldn't even try. You have to pick your shot, and make it count. So, firepups, let's help out the folks in DC: where would you aim, and what rhetorical ammunition would you use?

Five items can help to sharpen a short speech like this. Each one can be handled in a hundred different ways, but every good five minute speech has to deal with each of them.

  • Focus: You can't say everything, so be specific: what do you want to lift up as a huge part of your thinking? Do you hit the lack of planning in the past? Do you point to the growing civil war? Do you slam the White House for the false pretenses of the invasion? Do you knock them for being less-than-forthcoming with congressional leaders and question why Congress should trust the White House this time? Do you hit the costs – US military casualties? Iraqi civilian deaths? Our international reputation and influence? The dollars that cannot be spent on other pressing needs? Do you look at other problems around the world – North Korea, Cuba, Iran, China, the broader middle east – and how this escalation only makes matters worse elsewhere? Do you point out the war profiteering? Those of a military bent would say that this is a "target-rich environment," so be specific: which target to you want to take out?
  • Audience: Who are you talking to, and what do you want them to think or do? Do you take on "the opposition" as a whole? Do you aim your comments at "the world"? Do you tailor your thoughts toward your constituents?  Do you want to call on folks to join you and your position? Do you want to tear down the opposing viewpoints? Do you rebut the speaker who preceeded you, or try to pre-empt the one who will follow? Do you address your thoughts to the folks at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?
  • Tone: Who do you want to sound like: the wise sage, the angry prophet, the humble servant, someone else? Do you make your statement in human/personal terms? moral/religious terms? military terms? economic terms? diplomatic terms? Do you press your own beliefs to the fore, or do you reflect the stance of your party leaders, or the stance of your constituents? Will your words be impassioned, thoughtful, or righteously indignant? Will you speak loudly, firmly, or quietly? Do you use humor or satire, mocking your opponents, or do you try to win them over with kindness and flowers?
  • Authority: Do you quote experts – military, diplomatic, and others – who in their wisdom think this escalation is the latest recipe for disaster to come out of Dick Cheney's kitchen? Do you quote family members back home who miss their loved ones? Do you quote politicians and leaders in Iraq and the Middle East? The Baker-Hamilton report? Do you bring in your experence in Congress, in the military, in business, as a parent? Do you quote well-scrubbed think tank scholars and their white papers or dirty hippies and their blogs or Grammy-winning country musicians and their lyrics?
  • Destination: At the end of your time, what do you want folks to remember? What do you want folks to take away from your speech? What do you want people to hang on to, in order to share it with others? Where do you want your hearers to be, at the end of your five minute journey?

So what about you — what would you say?

And remember: you've only got five minutes.

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I'm an ordained Lutheran pastor with a passion for language, progressive politics, and the intersection of people's inner sets of ideals and beliefs (aka "faith" to many) and their political actions. I mostly comment around here, but offer a weekly post or two as well. With the role that conservative Christianity plays in the current Republican politics, I believe that progressives ignore the dynamics of religion, religious language, and religiously-inspired actions at our own peril. I am also incensed at what the TheoCons have done to the public impression of Christianity, and don't want their twisted version of it to go unchallenged in the wider world. I'm a midwesterner, now living in the Kansas City area, but also spent ten years living in the SF Bay area. I'm married to a wonderful microbiologist (she's wonderful all the way around, not just at science) and have a great little Kid, for whom I am the primary caretaker these days. I love the discussions around here, especially the combination of humor and seriousness that lets us take on incredibly tough stuff while keeping it all in perspective and treating one another with respect.

And Preview is my friend.