It was an electric moment for Alabama last night, and for the country. Doug Jones defeated Roy Moore in an election for a seat in the U.S. Senate, an election that had broad implications for the state of Alabama and for the country at large.
I’d like to focus on his victory speech. It would have been easy for Senator Jones to surf the adrenaline of the moment, and disregard good public speaking technique, but he didn’t do that. He spoke with intention, structure, and purpose. Here are three things that rock about this speech:
- It’s selfless – unlike Donald Trump, Doug Jones wasn’t quick to take credit for his victory. He rightly laid the victory at the feet of the people of Alabama. Nothing unifies an audience more than selflessness.
- It uses southern myth brilliantly – After giving the victory over to the people of Alabama, Jones credits them for taking the right road at “the crossroads”. “The Crossroads” is a common motif in the music of the deep south, evoking memories of a hodgepodge of southern people and events: Robert Johnson, the Civil Rights Movement, the Alabama Bus Boycott, Segregation, etc, etc. But it’s bluesman Robert Johnson who owns the most common iteration of this myth; the story of a man who sells his soul to the devil in order to play the guitar. Every man, woman and child from Alabama, and many people from other parts of the country will immediately understand the allusion, and likely feel thrilled to be walking in Johnson’s footsteps.
- It uses southern myth brilliantly part two – I don’t think you can be a Democrat giving a major political speech in Alabama without quoting Martin Luther King Jr, but the question is, which quote? I’ll admit when Doug Jones trotted out the “the moral arc of the universe” quote from King’s 1964 speech at Wesleyan University, I was a little weary. It is a quote that is often overused. But it really is the best quote for this moment. This race had everything to do with morality and doing what is right. The Doug Jones moment, for so many reasons, is personified by Martin Luther King Jr, a man who fought against the establishment in the name of dignity, grace and human rights.
Again, it’s very easy to get caught up in the moment during these big emotional speeches and lose track of what you are saying, It’s very important to remember the importance of structure, allegory, and symbolism when you speak. I hope Doug Jones will remember this when he runs for president in 2020.