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Presidential Speech Midterm Paper


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This paper was written my Junior year in 2010 and covers two speeches, one that positively demonstrates leadership and one that does not. I chose speeches from former President George W. Bush and …

This paper was written my Junior year in 2010 and covers two speeches, one that positively demonstrates leadership and one that does not. I chose speeches from former President George W. Bush and President Obama.

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  • 1. Katie Weismiller Presidential Speech Writing and Appreciation Midterm 812.212.8009
  • 2. Weismiller2 Question 1 Throughout the course of history, influential orators have graced our Oval Office in hopes of bettering our country through the ideas and wisdom that they have accrued over the course of their lifetime. However, this only takes place under the watchful eyes of our media and citizens and it has been our pleasure to guide our leaders through our support and criticisms. Our best leaders have often been defined, not by the tasks they accomplish, but how well they publicly declare their opinions and goals for their term. Shiver and tear-inducing speeches are remembered far more often than the goals and ideas that founded them. That being said, Presidents and their speech-writing teams realize how essential these precious media moments are and our society has seen some truly inspirational and awe-inspiring speeches throughout our nation’s history. Many of these speeches have defined the deliverer as a leader and savior for our country. Many have also fallen flat and left the American audience disappointed and slightly frustrated. It is hard to tell which of the speeches we are witnessing today will be in our children’s history books decades later, but the one that has impacted my generation undoubtedly has been President Obama’s victory speech in Hyde Park, Chicago on November 4th, 2008. This speech signaled a change in our history as a nation and offered all the promise that one could hope for the future. With phrasing and motifs reminiscent of Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy, this speech set a standard for the theme of President Obama’s term and assured the American public that “Yes We Can” would become as widely recognized as “E Pluribus Unum.” It has yet to be seen whether Obama’s presidency will be as
  • 3. Weismiller3 successful as all had hoped, but it is clearly evident that his victory speech will be forever held in high regard as a key moment in defining our nation’s history. On that November evening, President Obama began his victory speech with a distinct sense of humility and appreciation. The first thing he did was bring his family out and took a moment to thank all those that impacted his whirlwind of a campaign. He acknowledged all essential campaign members by name, clearly demonstrating how his administration would be a personal one with key members feeling a part of a team, not an administration. Then, in the fashion of a true leader, he acknowledged the most essential aspect of his campaign – the voters. President Obama acknowledged, “It’s the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Latino, 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” (“Victory Speech”, 2008). Through this passage he successfully acknowledged and thanked all of his key demographic voters without isolating the opposition. The 2008 campaign was a very opinionated and passionate one. It was essential for him to assert his power in a way that would not further separate everyone, but still establish himself as the new leader of the United States. Obama successfully demonstrates his status as the new leader by addressing the separation between his supporters and his opposition and enforcing the need for unification adamantly. Through this maneuver, Obama unifies the country and establishes his credibility as the new President-Elect. After the proper acknowledgements and congratulatory phrases, Obama immediately begins discussing the task at hand. It is here where he begins channeling
  • 4. Weismiller4 the tactics of former Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Obama uses a frank candor and blatantly discusses the problems that lie ahead. He states, “I know you didn’t do this just to win an election and I know you didn’t do it for me. You did it because you understand the enormity of the task that lies ahead. For even as we celebrate tonight, we know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime – two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century” (“Victory Speech,” 2008). Obama sets the tone for leadership throughout the country because he refuses to avoid the issues that the previous administration had ignored. This is very reminiscent of President Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address when he addressed a war-stricken nation with the words, “…let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle for his widow and his orphan…” (Safire, 2004). Lincoln uses vivid imagery to force his audience to recognize the severity of the Civil War. Obama mimics this tool, addressing the severe financial issues and wars that America was experiencing in 2008. Franklin Delano Roosevelt also used a frank and blunt tone to confront the Depression- stricken nation of the 1930s. He eloquently states, “In every dark hour of our national life, a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory” (Safire, 2004). Roosevelt also comments, “Only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment” (Safire, 2004). Both Lincoln and Roosevelt established their credibility by not avoiding the issues that plagued their beloved nation. Obama was incredibly astute to use this tool because it showed the nation that he meant to accomplish his goals and he was working for the betterment of our nation. The people greatly responded to this and it
  • 5. Weismiller5 showed in the immense amount of support given to the President-Elect in his first few months in office. Another example of Obama’s success in defining leadership was by creating a phrase that exemplified his presidency and unified the nation with one singular hope. His repetition of the phrase, “Yes We Can” created a cadence that set the tone for the rest of his administration and brought together a nation that had been disjointed for many years. This technique can be found in John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Speech given in 1961 to a country very much affected by party influence. J.F.K. sought to close this divide through the repetition of “Let both sides…” (Safire, 2004). He began over five phrases with this proposal and it helped unite a nation that was deeply torn apart. Obama utilized the success of this technique by creating a phrase that can be remembered by all American citizens, regardless of age, race, or party, and helped create a movement within our nation. One of the final aspects of Obama’s speech that exemplified leadership was his professorial air. Some have criticized this aspect of Obama’s oratorical skills, yet it brings back memories of a time where intelligent speaking and classical references were not frowned upon. President Obama and his speech-writing team fully understand that we know live in a society of media-bytes and clips where many things can be taken out of context. However, Obama has refused to give in to this situation and speaks the way he desires to speak. His professorial air is relaxed enough to seem conversational, yet it is reminiscent of the well-versed Kennedys, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. This automatically lends to his status as a leader because it reminds people of a more eloquent past where appealing to the masses did not mean speaking
  • 6. Weismiller6 in sound-bytes specifically formed for the media. During his victory speech, Obama even quotes his favorite president, Abraham Lincoln, and this shows his admiration of one of our nation’s greatest presidents and his intent to follow in this admirable man’s footsteps. Through this, Obama shows that his destiny to be the leader of our great nation was not a stroke of luck, but the result of many years of hard work and determination. President Obama set the standard for the rest of his term through his victory speech at Grant Park on November 4th, 2008. By asserting his credibility, using frankness, vigor, and repetition, and by using a professorial air, Obama established his role as the leader of our country. This speech not only ushered in the Obama administration, but also ushered in an era of change. The victory speech invigorated the spirit of our nation and created hope for the future. While the grim times were recognized and confronted, President Obama maintained the hope and commitment to the betterment of our nation. By the end of the speech, the country was left feeling revived and committed to working on fixing our nation together. By unifying the many different people of our nation, Obama left even the most conservative people with some hope for the potential of the future for the country. The world never fully understands the impact of a speech until many years later, but this speech will most surely go down in history as one of great change and commitment to a nation that was confused and concerned about the future. Through his victory speech, Obama confronted these fears and proved that he was right for the job.
  • 7. Weismiller7 Question 2 Along with the many great Presidential speeches that have graced our history come many that have fallen short in their attempt to invoke emotion in the American audience. While many consider President Jimmy Carter’s “Malaise” speech to be the worst of all time, I believe that a few others have faltered significantly within the more recent past. The one recent speech that was rejected by the American people the most was George W. Bush’s Response to Hurricane Katrina on August 31st, 2005. There is a certain level of oratorical success that is expected of our nation’s leader today. President Bush has always been severely criticized for his lack of eloquence and confidence when speaking. It is because of this that he is known as one of the worst Presidential speakers. He magnified this fault throughout his response to Hurricane Katrina. His arrogance, sense of apathy, and his lack of dedication to the cause infuriated an already distressed nation and caused a massive lack of faith for the government. Where many Presidents have created words that have defined our nation, President Bush created tension and frustration in a country that needed understanding and sympathy in a time of tragedy. President George W. Bush begins this speech on a negative note by beginning with absolutely no sympathy or concern for the people affected by Hurricane Katrina. He immediately begins stating facts in a nonchalant manner, acting as if nothing terrible is occurring at all. There were many high expectations for this speech. The American people expected an explanation for the government’s late intervention, their lack of support, and the lack of military efforts to preserve and protect the affected area. President Bush had the opportunity to define his status as the leader of our nation
  • 8. Weismiller8 through this speech and he failed miserably because his lack of passion and empathy was so evident. Another negative aspect to this speech was President Bush’s air of condescension and arrogance. Throughout the speech, Bush continually takes on air of superiority. This is the exact opposite of how he should portray himself to the American public. A true leader would show sympathy and try to understand and fix the situation to the best of their abilities. George Bush did not do this. Through his mannerisms and extreme lack of passion towards the subject, George Bush infuriated the American audience. One supreme example of his condescending behavior is when he began numbering the tasks that they were going to accomplish. Jimmy Carter did this throughout his “Malaise” speech to a similar negative effect. Carter called his plan for action “Points” and this translated into a punishment for the American audience. It felt as though Carter was lecturing or giving his audience a sermon for their bad behavior. George W. Bush also used this and it failed as well. In addition to the arrogance that surrounded this technique, President Bush never passed his first point. This made the President’s thoughts seem unintelligent and segmented. Bush was consistently scrutinized for this throughout his administration and it shows a lack of commitment from his speech team that they would let things like this occur. During a national crisis, arrogance should not be a main aspect of your speech. If George W. Bush had realized this, he would have been criticized much less for the content of this speech. President Bush’s complete disconnect from the disaster also played a large role in how this speech failed to exemplify leadership. Throughout the speech, he continued to try and describe the scene to the American public and portray how devastating the
  • 9. Weismiller9 damage is. This was not successful at all. President Bush made the mistake of beginning his description with the phrase, “In my flyover, I saw…” This immediately lost his credibility with the American public. The disaster-stricken people in the South did not want to hear about what he saw in his flyover. This created a huge divide between him and the American people and demonstrated how Bush would never fully understand the problem at hand. A leader would have gone to the South and tried to help as much as possible. Bush settled for simply flying over the disaster and hoping that FEMA would complete their job. This was evident throughout his speech. One of the most important aspects of presidential speeches is bridging the divide between the political elite and the normal, everyday American citizen. Through his response to Hurricane Katrina, Bush did not even attempt to bridge this gap and caused many problems for him later on. The final failure of President Bush’s response to Hurricane Katrina was his lack of coverage of the actual topic. President Bush spent more time thanking people and organizations than informing the American public about plans for the future. This was very reminiscent of Jimmy Carter’s “Malaise” speech, because Carter spent the majority of his time lecturing and not covering the subject at hand. Carter arrogantly stated, “What I have to say to you now about energy is simple and vitally important.” This statement was rude and condescending and showed that Carter had little appreciation for the work of the American people. George Bush could have avoided this situation and appealed to the emotions of every American. It was essential for President Bush to demonstrate to America that he and his administration did care and had a plan for the future. However, he did not succeed at this endeavor. He did not provide any information on the state of New Orleans and the Gulf coast. He simply listed what his
  • 10. Weismiller10 intentions for FEMA were and expected the American audience to accept this without any issues. The American public had many expectations for this speech and President Bush simply failed to deliver. American citizens have always had high expectations and standards to which they hold their leader accountable. Public speaking skills are an essential aspect of those guidelines. It is incredibly difficult to know when a speech will go down in history as a nation-changing moment. However, with the correct team, it should not be incredibly difficult to gather the passion and sympathy needed to show the American public that the political elites do care. It is difficult to understand why George W. Bush could not find the emotion needed to prove his noble intentions to his country. A number of factors could have contributed to why he could not succeed with this speech, but it is his job as the leader of the free world to push through the struggles and prove that our nation will make it through any disaster or tragedy. Thankfully, our nation is more often defined by the public-speaking successes of our leaders and not by the oratorical failures. While many moments of Presidential leadership will be chronicled throughout the history books of the future, one can sincerely hope that President George W. Bush’s Response to Hurricane Katrina will never grace those pages.
  • 11. Weismiller11 References Transcri pt: presi dent obama’ s vi ctory speech (2004). Retri eved from: Safi re, W. (2004). Li ncoln, i n hi s second i naugural, seeks to heal the spi ri tual wounds of war. Lend m e your ears (pp. 493-496). New York: W.W. Norton & C o. . Safi re, W. (2004). Presi dent Frankli n D . Roosevelt's fi rst i naugural i nsti lls confi dence i n a depressi on-racked nati on. Lend m e your ears (pp. 936-941). New York: W.W. Norton & C o. . Safi re, W. (2004). Presi dent John F. Kennedy i n hi s i naugural, takes up the torch for a new generati on.Lend m e your ears (pp. 969- 973). New York: W.W. Norton & C o. .