Around the Blogosphere, in articles and comments, President Obama was criticized by progressives for merely giving a pep talk and for not offering a plan to develop alternative energy sources. This speech was about the oil spill; it was not about recycling or growing our own food or putting up solar panels.
If he were Abraham Lincoln or Franklin D. Roosevelt or John F. Kennedy, he would have done this or said that, an echo heard throughout cyberspace.
Truth is, most of us have romantic and fanciful notions about the great speeches of Abe, FDR and JFK. We have memorized and recited passages in school and we have seen the same snippets over and over on David Letterman. But what most of us haven't heard or read are the entire speeches.
Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1865
"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and for his orphans, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and a lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."
Lincoln offered no plans on how to end the Civil War. The speech was described as "theologically intense." In fact, Lincoln mentioned God six times in this very short speech - four paragraphs in all.
Franklin D. Roosevelt's Declaration of War, December 8, 1941
In FDR's brief Declaration of War against Japan, most likely it is the first paragraph that people remember the most.
"Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 - a date which will live in infamy - the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan."
Roosevelt did not elaborate on how we were going to win the war, or urge people to buy war bonds or plant Victory Gardens. That would come later. His speech was only slightly longer than Lincoln's. But what he did say in the next to last paragraph was:
"With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph. So help us God."
John F. Kennedy, Bay of Pigs Invasion, April 20, 1961
I think it's safe to say that the most famous quote from any of Kennedy's speeches was from his inauguration. The words moved the entire nation - well, at least the Democrats and probably a lot of young people.
And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.
My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.
Kennedy presented his Bay of Pigs address before the American Society of Newspaper Editors. It is described as a motivational or inspirational speech.
He outlined three lessons that should have been learned from recent events: 1) the forces of communism are not to be underestimated, in Cuba or anywhere else in the world; 2) this Nation, in concert with all the free nations of this hemisphere, must take an ever closer and more realistic look at the menace of external Communist intervention and domination in Cuba; 3) we face a relentless struggle in every corner of the globe that goes far beyond the clash of armies or even nuclear armaments. (His words.)
John F. Kennedy, Cuban Missile Crisis, October 22, 1962
Kennedy's Cuban Missile Crisis speech was a work of art as were most of his speeches. I think it is safe to say that he had a rare gift - and better writers than any president has had before or since.
Just as Roosevelt accused Japan of planning the attack on Pearl Harbor for a long time and lying about it all that while, Kennedy accused the Soviets of planning and preparing a series of offensive missile sites on the island of Cuba and lying.
The president detailed seven major steps: 1) put a strict quarantine on all offensive military equipment under shipment to Cuba; 2) continue and increase close surveillance of Cuba and its military buildup; 3) to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States; 4) reinforce our base at Guantanamo; 5) call for an immediate meeting of the Organization] of Consultation under the Organization of American States; 6) call for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council; 7) to call upon Chairman Khrushchev to halt and eliminate this clandestine, reckless, and provocative threat to world peace.
At the end, Kennedy said:
The path we have chosen for the present is full of hazards, as all paths are; but it is the one most consistent with our character and courage as a nation and our commitments around the world. The cost of freedom is always high, but Americans have always paid it. And one path we shall never choose, and that is the path of surrender or submission.
Our goal is not the victory of might, but the vindication of right; not peace at the expense of freedom, but both peace and freedom, here in this hemisphere, and, we hope, around the world. God willing, that goal will be achieved.
Barack Obama, Gulf Oil Spill, June 15, 2010
I will be the first to say that this wasn't Obama's finest hour - or fifteen minutes. His speech did not measure up to Kennedy's on the Cuban Missile Crisis but it was better than FDR's Declaration of War and even Lincoln's second Inaugural address.
Our country is an old hand at war but this spill is the worst environmental crisis we've ever faced. I'm not sure there's anyone in the White House, or the science and engineering fields, who really knows what to do. Being an arm chair engineer is always easier than being on the team trying to figure out how to get this monster under control. I doubt if the president ever took an engineering course in his life.
I wonder if people truly understand that, "Because there has never been a leak of this size at this depth, stopping it has tested the limits of human technology."
Obama offered a battle plan consisting of three stages: 1) clean up; 2) recovery and restoration of the Gulf Coast region; 3) ensure that a disaster like this does not happen again - "I have established a National Commission to understand the causes of this disaster and offer recommendations on what additional safety and environmental standards we need to put in place."
I wonder if people remembered this statement the next day:
Tomorrow, I will meet with the chairman of BP and inform him that he is to set aside whatever resources are required to compensate the workers and business owners who have been harmed as a result of his company's recklessness. And this fund will not be controlled by BP. In order to ensure that all legitimate claims are paid out in a fair and timely manner, the account must and will be administered by an independent, third party.