Sandy Hook

Sandy Hook

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Comparative speeches 101

Nonsense and dribble is expected from the right and they deliver on cue. Such pettiness and snarkiness coming from the left is disheartening, disturbing and quite possibly unjustified.

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

The last paragraph is what many of us had to memorize in school:

"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.

Full text.

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."

God: 1

Full text.

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.

God: 3

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.)

God: 0

Full text.

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.

God: 1

Full text.

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.
God: 3 
Full text.


  1. Ain't that a kick in the head...
    Nice work Leslie, you did good.;)

  2. Thanks, Tim. It's actually been kind of fun. Reading through Kennedy's speeches, as good as they were, was a bit of a challenge. Don't know if the man ever gave a short speech in his life.

  3. Enlightening post, Leslie. That's why it's fun to come here. I learn something everytime--same with TSZ.

    Most of Mr. Obama's critics on the left and right would criticize him if he said the sun sets in the west.

    The New York Times reported last week that Obama is not enthralled with the press and doesn't kiss up to it.

    The MSM want a politician to be their "buddy." A president has no obligation to suck up to pundits or reporters, in fact, he or she should avoid that.

    Mr. Obama is doing just fine.

    What we're witnessing coming from the right is revenge punditry--before Mr. Obama took the oath of office, gasbags like Limbaugh were calling for his failure to avenge the miserable failure that was the Bush administration.

  4. Leslie: I doubt few people other than bloggers realize the hard work and time behind a post as good as this.

    I have copied the post to my computer to save and have emailed the URL to myself so that I can go back and read each of the speeches in the context of your points. Just don’t have time to read them at the moment.

    I don’t think I could top Shaw’s comment, but I do want to thank you for such sound reasoning.


  5. Shaw: Big blush! I have to give credit to Mr. Tim. It was really his idea in an exchange on his blog.

    I'm not saying we Dems should always agree with Obama as I think you know. After all, we wouldn't be Dems if we agreed on everything! One of the many appeals of the party imo.

    But the tendency on the part of some - and its always the same "somes" - to immediately slam-dunk him for anything and everything shows a lack of political sophistication.

    Obama is not a saint. He is a mere human being subject to all the same flaws the rest of us are. And as the previous quote on my blog says, his powers aren't limitless. We need to learn to look at the whole picture and not just the few stumbles.

    All we need to do is stop and think: What would McCain have said under the circumstances?

    If the media were more responsible and knowledgeable, he might be more willing to chat with them. After their demonstrated stupidity over the last year he should stay as far away as possible.

    BJ: Thank you so much. It really was my pleasure to prepare. To me it comes down to thinking that if the Dems don't put up a united front, we're going to be digging our own graves.

  6. I was one of the critics, Leslie. I said I had mixed feelings, reviewed most of the speech as good, but suggested that when he broached the subject of long term energy policy, and when he said he would take a bipartisan approach by seeking GOP input, he was opening the door to more GOP obstruction. I suggested that, instead, he should have said he has a long term policy to enact.

    I am very strongly in Obama's corner. When I think he's wrong, I say so, without turning on him.

  7. Excellent post. Full of facts and important information for anyone who wishes to avail themselves of knowledge instead of listening to the radicals, who fail to note when the country went from a surplus given to the rich to a quick slide into war and economic disaster.

    And what McCain would say re: the Oil Disaster is what he kept repeating on the campaign trail, "Drill, Baby, Drill."

    And now Newt wants to run for president in 2012. God spare us from anymore of their ilk.

  8. TC: I totally understand and agree with you in that last paragraph. However this kind of criticism is not what I'm talking about, although there were offerings that echoed some of your thinking.

    I heard the most asinine comments. The one that made me see red the most was, "No doubt about it, Obama is going to be a one term president." Give me an effin break. We're over two years away from the next election, for C****t's sake.

    Personally, I think expecting him to say he has a long term energy policy at this juncture, and during a talk devoted to the spill, is unfair and unrealistic.
    Having watched his MO, I would be willing to bet there's one already in the works and we will hear about it once all the kinks are worked out.

    While it has upset me in the past, I think this calling for Republican input is a smooth political move. Time and time again, it has been shown that he and the Democrats have solutions while the GOP has none and are only interested in votes and obstruction. In the long run, I think this will hurt them at the polls.

  9. Thanks, Tiny. I firmly believe that the majority of Republicans don't believe that McCain and Newt are anything more than opportunistic jokes - or bad dreams.

  10. I think Obama's speech was good and did what he set out to do. That is, to make clear his understanding of the magnitude and seriousness of the problem, make his intentions for dealing with it clear and provide reassurance to those most affected.

    I was not persuaded by the carping about his failure to launch into a sales pitch for far-reaching energy policy changes. Nor did the complaints about his failure to include a call to action for all Americans make sense.

    The one criticism I had, and still have, is Obama's failure to tell BP to get a bunch of tankers into the Gulf immediately to draw off as much oil as possible, especially the huge underwater plumes.

    That baffling and IMO bad decision hasn't been satisfactorily explained. It festers as an uncomfortable suspicion BP is being spared the expense, on the argument the effort would be too costly for the amount of oil likely to be recovered -- an argument I reject on grounds no one can know until it's tried, and I don't give a rip how cost efficient it is for BP. Every gallon of oil removed from the water is one less gallon the environment and the creatures have to suffer with.

  11. tnlib
    All I have is a big mouth, don't credit did all the work and expressed it in a beautiful way.
    I blog and visit to allow myself to consider other ideas. Because,,sometimes I'm wrong. Not to often but sometimes....;)

  12. SW: I agree with you on BP. I don't think they should be cut one ounce of slack.

    I saw - somewhere - that some guy has invented a vacuum to suck up the oil. Bet it goes nowhere.

    Tim: I think this is why we all blog - to say nothing of the friendships. Not everyone has to agree with me and I don't have to agree with everyone. I still have nothing but admiration for the collective brain power on my blog roll.

  13. Please allow me to explain why I've been tough on President Obama in regards to dealing with the republicans Leslie.

    I speak from the heart and from personal experience that I think relates to whatever I'm talking about.

    When I first became a union bargaining committee member I was going towork with management and show the world that good ideas and working together were the way to go. In a nutshell, I got fucked. And so has Obama with his gestures of bipartisanship. So did Ted Kennedy with No Child Left Behind. Great photo op. Nothing else.

    I have no trust for the right. They gave us Dick Cheney and still worship this scumbag. I won't apologise for being tough on the President for trying to give them a seat at the table when I know, and we all know, the right's main goal is to weaken government. Not make it serve.

    I'm glad the President is beating these jokers down. He should have done so on day one. Guess he had to see for himself.

  14. Leslie,
    What an incredibly well researched and interesting post, and what a great concept, to look at the "meat" if you will, of certain well-regarded speeches and compare them to this one.

    If I ever get famous (yeah, right) and screw up I hope we're still good friends cause your research ability would nail me for sure if we weren't!

  15. Truth: I don't think anyone in their right mind would trust a rightie. At this juncture I don't think Obama gives a hoot whether or not the Republicans work with him. You can almost see it in his face every time he mentions it.

    Oso: Thank you dear heart. Actually, in my past life, I did work that encompassed doing research on people - similar to being a PI - so be careful. ; )

  16. “To me it comes down to thinking that if the Dems don't put up a united front, we're going to be digging our own graves.”

    This is exactly what has troubled me since Obama’s election and, frankly, has made it very hard for me to continue blogging. I am on record on DemWit pointing out that the left has been as critical of Obama as the right (although not in such a dastardly way).

    Certainly it is our responsibility as citizens to criticize elected officials.

    But, this left-wing griping started before Inauguration Day when Rick Warren was slated to be on the program.

    I agree: we are doomed in November and beyond if we don’t present a united front. Polls show Republicans are much more “enthusiastic” about the November election.

    Where is our enthusiasm?


  17. I don't think Dems would be so stupid as to vote for a Republican but I think Republicans would make hay our of the dissatisfaction within the Democratic party. And if Dems go fishing, then they have no right to complain.

    The Republicans might be enthusiastic about the November elections but that shows how delusional they are.

  18. Thanks for this post. A toxic culture of complaint has infected much of the progressive punditry and blogosphere. It has reached the point of making common cause with Rush Limbaugh.

    My take is that it's hard for some to change direction after eight years of anger, especially when Obama hasn't delivered exactly what they want right now. Also, they tend to understand policy in a vacuum devoid of the contexts of history, politics, and process.

    SW, I think it takes 4-6 months to outfit tankers for that kind of cleanup, longer if it has to be done serially.

    My criticism of Obama re the spill -- and I'm sure he's kicked himself over this more than once -- is that he spent two weeks accepting BP's account instead of assuming that they were lying to save their skins. His Sec'y of Interior is oil friendly and unlikely to contradict BP, nor of course were any Gulf state politicians (save a few like Texas' Lloyd Doggett, but there's no relationship between him and Obama).

  19. K: "they tend to understand policy in a vacuum devoid of the contexts of history, politics, and process."

    I'll have to remember this as I've been saying it for months - only not as well.

    I agree with you about Obama trusting BP too much. Without sounding maudlin - if anything, I think Obama is such an honorable person himself it's hard for him to accept the fact that there are liars, thieves and scoundrels in the world.

  20. "if anything, I think Obama is such an honorable person himself it's hard for him to accept the fact that there are liars, thieves and scoundrels in the world."

    And one of them works for him. If a man like Rahm Emanual who uses hate speech against the mentally disabled as part of his performance of his job duties isn't a scoundrel, then who is?

  21. Now now..... none of these guys said that Jesus was their favorite philosopher, so they are ALL lacking! We needs us another PREZNIT who gots Jesus whispering in his ear! Look at how WELL that worked out for us last time!

  22. I will be the first to say that this wasn't Obama's finest hour...

    At times I am certain we liberals have just pumped the president up to much making him a superhero in our minds when he is just a man.

    Given that please forgive if I repeat what I have written before in saying that Obama is often too cerebral acting far too much like a tenured college professor or a disgusted Mr. Spock.

    Forgive me for giving Reagan any credit but part of leadership is often a half-assed ability to act so rage can rightfully be redirected to constructive ends and so uncertainty can be blunted. The president has not been able to achieve either since the start of the crisis.

  23. K. I read something to the effect it wouldn't take all that long to deploy tankers. It explained the big problem is finding ones available, because most of them are under contract or undergoing maintenance. Maybe that was wrong; I don't know. I'm sure at least some could be brought in before August, or could've been if the effort had been started weeks ago.

    Just a thought on criticizing the president, which I did in my previous comment. I like Obama and want desperately for him to succeed, for a host of reasons. Even so, I don't think it's wise or helpful to paste a smile on my face and hand out attaboys when I think he or his people are getting it wrong, or failing to act when they should act.

    That said, there is criticism and there is criticism. As in what I said above, I do it about specific things, not just utter blanket, snarky condemnation. And, I inlcude what I think is the right thing to do.

    As Thom Hartmann says, some presidents need a bit of prodding from their supporters, and Obama has shown himself to be one of those.

    LP, I think your remark about Obama being so honorable he has a hard time relating to people who are completely the opposite is truth on steroids. It's an area where tough guy Emanuel is probably a good asset.

  24. JR: God wasn't whispering in his ear. He was whispering through it since there was nothing there to block it.

    BB: Much of the criticism was that he merely gave a pep talk. I don't think we can have it both ways and I just don't think this was a time for drama. Reagan could get away with it because he was an actor. I think it would ring hollow with Obama.

    SW: As I've said many, many times I do not believe in blind loyalty but I have no patience for petty criticism such as - it was just a pep talk, he should have outlined a plan for alternative energy, he's going to be a one term president, and "Oh my God, how many times did he say God?"

    Yes, you do criticize specific things and your criticism is always constructive. Would it be with others.