An individual with strong political opinions who does not hesitate to express them.
Typically, a park bench orator speaks out about their views in public.
Origin of “Park Bench Orator”
Perhaps the most famous park bench orator was Bernard Baruch.
Baruch started his career as a Wall Street investor. He later went to work for President Woodrow Wilson, as a national defense advisor; later in his career, he worked as an advisor for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Baruch is probably best remembered for his quirky habit of spending long periods of time sitting on a park bench and talking politics.
Baruch’s favorite bench was located in Lafayette Park, right next to the statue of Andrew Jackson.
According to the National Parks Service, Baruch didn’t like the process of being driven to the White House to meet with the president.
Instead, he decided that he’d sit on his favorite park bench and wait until the president was ready to see him; Baruch arranged for a signal light to go on when it was time for the meeting.
Over time, Baruch became famous for this habit. He became such a fixture of Lafayette Park that the post office once delivered a letter to him which was addressed simply to “Bernard Baruch, Lafayette Park, Washington, D.C.”
Today, a commemorative bench with a plaque bearing Baruch’s name is where he used to sit. In New York City, Baruch College – which is named after him – contains a sculpture of Baruch sitting on a park bench.
And a 1944 biography of Baruch was titled, of course, The Gentleman on the Park Bench; BERNARD BARUCH, Park Bench Statesman.
Barnard Baruch is an unusual park bench orator, one with power and connections who commanded respect.
Most of the time, the phrase has been used as an insult.
Today, it’s mostly passed out of use, but it has been used as a way of describing an amateur philosopher who might not have a strong grip on reality. The phrase implies a lack of self-control and a slight sense of public humiliation.
Park bench orators are also vulnerable; until fairly recently, vagrancy laws in many regions allowed the police to arrest people for sitting on a park bench and ranting.
At Guilford College in South Carolina, college administrators actively encourage students to practice their soapbox (or park bench) oratory.
The practice started in 2000, when a storm blew down many of the trees on campus, leaving stumps behind.
“We had all these stumps everywhere, and we thought we might as well make use of the gift that God dropped in our laps,” the campus minister coordinator said. The stumps have since been replaced with stone benches. Every Wednesday, the school encourages students to climb up on a stone “stump” and address passers-by about whatever topic they find important.
Use of “Park Bench Orator” in a sentence
- As a park bench orator, Mr. Smith became a local legend, captivating passersby with his eloquent speeches on community issues.
- With an aura of nostalgia for a simpler time, the park bench orator drew a regular crowd, passionately discussing politics and social matters on sunny afternoons.
- Unofficially serving as the park bench orator, Grandma Rose used her decades of experience to hold court on everything from local politics to the importance of community service, influencing many of her listeners.
Taegan Goddard is the creator of the Political Dictionary.
Goddard spent more than a decade on Wall Street as managing director and chief operating officer of a prominent investment firm in New York City. Previously, he also served as a policy adviser to a U.S. Senator and Governor.
Goddard is also co-author of You Won – Now What?: How Americans Can Make Democracy Work from City Hall to the White House, a political management book hailed by prominent journalists and politicians from both parties.
His essays on politics and public policy have appeared in dozens of newspapers and magazines across the country.
Goddard earned degrees from Vassar College and Harvard University.
He lives in New York with his wife and three sons.