Posts Tagged ‘obama’

Essays on Obama: America the Beautiful

November 6, 2008

obamaAs I’ve posted before, regardless of one’s politics or feelings about the outcome of our 2008 Presidential election, there’s one thing that can be said about President-elect Barack Obama: the man can write.

The first sentences of his remarks on election night, as people screamed and sobbed and hugged each other, gave the inspiration that so many of his speeches have evoked:

If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.

It’s the answer told by lines that stretched around schools and churches in numbers this nation has never seen; by people who waited three hours and four hours, many for the very first time in their lives, because they believed that this time must be different; that their voice could be that difference.

It’s the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled – Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been a collection of Red States and Blue States: we are, and always will be, the United States of America.

It surprised me not one whit to be moved by his speech on election night. But what has pleasantly surprised me is how many essays I have read since Tuesday night that have equally moved me. All of the excerpts that follow invoke the same pride, inspiration, and love of country of Obama’s speeches:

The Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson, in his essay “Morning in America,” wrote:

Yet something changed on Tuesday when Americans — white, black, Latino, Asian — entrusted a black man with the power and responsibility of the presidency. I always meant it when I said the Pledge of Allegiance in school. I always meant it when I sang the national anthem at ball games and shot off fireworks on the Fourth of July. But now there’s more meaning in my expressions of patriotism, because there’s more meaning in the stirring ideals that the pledge and the anthem and the fireworks represent.

Garrison Keillor had this to say in his column for The Chicago Tribune, “Advice for the Happy Couple”:

A golden November day under a blue sky and an air of sweet amiability at the polls and at the end of the day, we elected the right guy, no doubt about it. Yes, we can and we did. A nation spread its wings and achieved altitude.

Maria Niles, in her PopConsumer blog, wrote:

My 21 year-old niece voted in her first presidential election.  She will never know a different possibility – a time when only white men could lead this country.  Where black people where considered anything less than fully and completely American even though this country was built on our backs and with our blood.  My 94 year-old grandmother, our matriarch, who has been the keeper of our family’s oral history of slavery and escape is alive to see this moment.  My cousin who traveled from the north to the south to be a freedom fighter in the civil rights movement is witnessing this history.  My mother who spent days and months volunteering and making phone calls to participate in democracy and help make history is witnessing this moment.  My father who fought for the country he chose to become a citizen of has been transformed and electrified by this campaign and he is witnessing this moment.

Perhaps Roger Cohen of The New York Times best expresses in his essay “Perfecting the Union” what I am feeling as I read these essays, as well as the words of President-elect Obama: that words matter:

America can mean what it says. It can respect its friends and probe its enemies before it tries to shock and awe them. It can listen. It can rediscover the commonwealth beyond the frenzied individualism that took down Wall Street.

I know, these are mere words. They will not right the deficit or disarm an enemy. But words count. That has been a lesson of the Bush years…

Obama will reinvest words with meaning. That is the basis of everything. And an American leader able to improvise a grammatical, even a moving, English sentence is no bad thing.


Political Writing: The Best Writers of the Democratic Presidential Candidates

January 9, 2008

SpeechI am getting very jazzed over the presidential primary elections. But it’s made me wonder — do any of these politicians have the writing chops to back up their views on the issues? So I decided to look at each of the remaining Democratic candidates’ websites (and before any people start hollering at me about fair play, just hold your horses — I’ll get to the Republicans later this week). As much as I would like to judge them using entirely objective measures, it simply isn’t possible from their websites. For the record, I looked the websites of Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Mike Gravel, Barack Obama, Bill Richardson, and Dennis Kucinich.

Okay, I thought – I’ll look at a speech from each candidate as a representative sample of their work. Now, I’m not naive — I know perfectly well that a more appropriate title for this post is the Best Speechwriter Hired by a Democratic Presidential Candidate. But who, besides speechwriters, wants to read that? So be that as it may, I went trolling on the candidates’ websites for a speech, preferably one on a subject all of them had touched upon, like the economy. Much to my shock and dismay, I had to hunt for speeches. And in Dennis Kucinich’s case, while he has video of everything he’s ever said on his website, he blatantly discriminates against those who would rather read a transcript. So I Googled him instead to come up with a speech.

Was it possible to come up with a speech on a single topic that all the candidates had given? Heck, no. So instead, I viewed speeches on the economy (Clinton); restoring our democracy (Edwards); a personal message “You Can Help Me Win” (Gravel, whose website offered no speeches that I could find); reclaiming the American Dream (Obama); a new foreign and domestic vision (Richardson); and nuclear nonproliferation (Kucinich).

Now what kind of opinion-maker would I be if I didn’t back-pedal and offer some disclaimers? Before I give you my results, first the rationale:

  • I am not — repeat, not — making any candidate endorsement by telling you who I believe the best writer to be. While there have been great Presidents in our history who were also great writers, I do not believe there is any hard and fast correlation between one’s writing ability (or one’s speechwriter’s ability) and one’s ability to lead the country.
  • My criteria for judging the “best” writing from a speech was whether it was able to evoke a true feeling of community or vision. Now, speeches in the primaries are obviously different from presidential speeches for State of the Union or other occasions. We are not going to get “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” Primary speeches must set forth the problems of the country and pose solutions, tell the voter why the opposing party or administration is cognitively challenged or morally bereft, and why the candidate poses the best solution.

And yet — within these speeches I did come across two candidates whom I felt gave some memorable images about America and its promise: Barack Obama and Dennis Kucinich. In Obama’s Nov. 7, 2007 speech, “Reclaiming the American Dream,” he stated:

America is the sum of our dreams. And what binds us together, what makes us one American family, is that we stand up and fight for each other’s dreams, that we reaffirm that fundamental belief – I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper – through our politics, our policies, and in our daily lives. It’s time to do that once more. It’s time to reclaim the American dream.

Similarly, Kucinich was able to evoke a sense of real global unity in his May, 2005 speech given at the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference:

As we work to create new models for enhancing cooperation between participants of nation states, a new model is evolving in the world of diplomacy. Wherever and whenever nation states fail to reconcile their differences, a new citizen diplomacy arises: Citizen diplomats summon the power of their own hearts and confirm their own humanity through reaching out and discovering their brothers and sisters speak other languages, have other colors and other religions and share a common desire to live out their lives in peace and tranquility. The work of nongovernmental organizations is equally urgent in saving this planet.

Both these candidates for me, at least, best typified the type of writing in a speech that can inspire as well as educate. But that’s just one writer’s opinion.

What say you all?

Addendum (1/19/08): I received a lovely email from Tracey deFrancesco of the organization She informed me that their website has a page dedicated to the 2008 Presidential election, including speech transcripts of ALL the candidates, Democrat, Republican, and Third Party. So hooray for Procon! And definitely check them out if you’re looking for information about all the Presidential candidates. I only wish I’d heard of them earlier. Sigh.