I’ve heard plenty of good comments about Barack Obama’s victory speech in Iowa on Thursday night. I thought I would check it out and hear it for myself and give an evaluation. (Keep in mind this is my evaluation of his speaking technique, not his politics.)
If you haven’t heard the speech, you can view it here.
Senator Obama’s speech did everything a campaign speech should do, and it did it extremely well. It motivated his campaigners. It built momentum for the primaries ahead. It outlined his policies and how he differentiates himself from other candidates. If you were borderline about voting for Obama, this speech could sway you. He exuded confidence. He looked like a leader who could rally the country, just as much as he could rally his party.
Some of the great features of Senator Obama’s speech is that he addressed the issues that concern Americans most, but he did it in a positive way. He showed what he would do, not how the other candidates would do a worse job.
In appealing to “red states” and “blue states,” he expressed something important that other candidates seem to have forgotten: A candidate has to appeal to a broad range of voters in order to win. In the past few decades, candidates have sought to appeal to the fringes, to the extreme voices on either side of the political spectrum. This may generate attention from all the controversy, but it can turn off the bulk of the voters who are in the center. And if a candidate can sway enough voters from the center to win, he or she can wind up dividing the country, just the way our past few presidents have done.
By appealing to the center and to both parties, Obama not only helps himself appeal to his own party, but he is setting himself up for the general election, should he get the party nomination. He is establishing himself as a candidate that Democrats and Republicans can vote for.
But for all of its confident delivery and effective writing, Senator Obama’s speech left me flat. He said things that have been said before. Hope. Change. Unity. Hope. Change. Hope. Wasn’t it back in 1992 that Bill Clinton ran with “I still believe in a place called Hope”? It worked 16 years ago, but now, “hope” is a just another hot button word.
We have had to deal with so much cynicism over the past few years, that Senator Obama and the other candidates have to do more to get us past that. We need our passion stirred again. We want someone who can lead us from the dangers we are in. We want a candidate who can make us believe in him or her. We want a candidate who can make us believe in ourselves. We want a candidate who can make us cry.
Such conditions can open the door for dangerous demagogues (as was the case in Germany in the 1930s). They can also open the door for someone with goodwill and the best interests of all Americans at heart (like Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy). But this candidate must express authentic passion, boundless optimism, and clear ideas. This is no time for political clichés and policy statements formulated in focus groups. It would be better to ditch the prepared speech to speak directly and from the heart.
In the coming months, I will be listening to speeches of candidates from both major parties to see if any of them can generate such passion. With the problems facing our country and planet, we need a leader who can stir us to action.