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Thursday, June 03, 2004

Please Hold Your Applause

The American Spectator pegs this incident as a mild embarrassment for John Kerry:

Perhaps even Sen. John Kerry is beginning to sense the total lack of enthusiasm for his candidacy. Kerry seemed alarmed by the complete absence of applause, or other audience interaction, he was receiving from a small crowd in Tampa, Florida, on Wednesday.

Kerry was there to accept the endorsement of a national union of emergency first responders, and to hold a "conversation" with local residents about his plans for protecting the nation from bio-terror attacks.

On several occasions, Kerry paused, seemingly expecting applause for his lines.


His lukewarm reception was so bad that Kerry lost his cool, telling his audience, "I know you don't want to be here anymore."

"That line actually generated more real cheers," says a bemused Florida Democratic Party official.


However, a lack of applause doesn't necessarily mean a lack of enthusiasm.

Back during the tenure of Big George Bush, I had the dubious honor of hearing Dan Quayle speak. He was addressing one of the semi-annual meetings of our professional society, which was being held in DC. In order to keep the crowd size manageable, the speech was billed as a "scientific" talk: scientists only, no guests. This meant that the wives of distinguished scientists were kept out (those wives who weren't scientists in their own right, at any rate), while grubby grad students like me were let in.

So Dan began his speech. You'll be shocked, I know, to hear that the scientific content was pretty low. Mostly he spoke in short bursts of platitudes. I remember he made a joke about his service during the Vietnam War, which he spent in the Indiana National Guard. (Democrats mocked him for this, and a few years later forgot that Clinton didn't spend any time in any Guard. Now they're back to mocking. But I digress.)

A few months before, he'd said something rather dim about the possibility of water on Mars, leaping wildly to the conclusion that the presence of H2O meant the presence of oxygen. Strangely he did not allude to this in his speech to us.

Now, the first part of the speech we sat there and just listened. But after a while the society's own Vice President started to applaud at every pause. It dawned on us that this is the sort of thing that's expected at political speeches. We hadn't been doing it before, not because we disagreed with what he said, but because it was a scientific talk, and we don't applaud in the middle of scientific talks. Although it might be kind of cool if we did:

"And so we find that, contrary to current theory, the emitted flux does not increase with temperature"

Bravo! Bravo! Phweee! Yeah! Author! Way to pontificate!

I also want flowers thrown up on the stage. Er, except we almost never have a stage. And since we speak to crowds of, oh, tens, we're usually in very small rooms. The force of a bouquet tossed from a distance of six feet might knock some of the lighter scientists down. That might be cool, too, seeing as how I'm not one of the lighter ones.

Er, anyway, it was amusing to read the papers the next day. Each one had fastened onto a different set of platitudes, and so had an entirely different take on the speech. The best one, though, was headlined "Scientists a Tough Audience for Quayle". We didn't mean to be, honest.

Although it would be strange if an organization giving an endorsement didn't know you were supposed to applaud wildly at every third word. It almost makes me feel sorry for Kerry. you suppose this is his cunning plan? Having given up on the tired methods of clarity of vision and personal warmth, he's trying the fresh approach of appealing to our pity. Could this wily scheme work??

Via Tim Blair.