We don’t only watch sporting events to see people crash cars, throw dumb interceptions or make what always seem to be redundantly dubbed “unforced errors.” But if you told us in advance that the game/race/match we were about to watch contained no serious fuck-ups, we’d be less interested in tuning in.
Similarly, attending or watching a live speech affords the possibility not only of being moved by rhetorical greatness—we can get that from Churchill if we need it—but also of receiving an unintended admission, some unplanned candor, or, God forbid, a Freudian slip (and the speaker’s fascinating reaction to it). Such moments can reveal a speaker’s resolve, confidence, warmth—
—or they can reveal other things.
What did we learn from Bush’s reaction to his live little slip of the tongue?
• He knows why it’s funny that he would call the war that defined his presidency “a wholly unjustified and brutal invasion.” And at some level, he also thinks it’s funny.
• He seems to at the very least sympathize with people who think the Iraq war was unjustified and brutal, because he says, “Heh. Iraq too.”
• And he seems practiced at effortlessly forgiving himself for colossal fuck-ups. In his easygoing mind, he didn’t make this mistake because he’s disheveled and clearly delivering a speech on a gravely important topic without much preparation, but because he’s “75.”
To the extent the above perceptions are accurate, that’s a hell of a lot to learn (or have powerfully confirmed) about a very important person, in seven or eight seconds.
But that’s what can happen in a live appearance—and with even the most scripted speech.
And it’s one of the reasons we go.