The Importance of Political Speeches in Determining the Quality of Presidents

In a world where the American public's views are constantly shifting and the elected officials constantly want to be ahead of the curve, it’s no surprise that politician’s are a chameleon-like breed. With contradicting statements, a multi-year voting record, and an instinct for anticipating change, it can be very difficult to pin down what a politician is really made of.

Does hardnosed lifelong consistency or the ability to grow and learn over the years show more character? Should the voting record be all that matters, or should their personal lives be on display?

I've always preferred to look at their speeches. Instead of looking at the average campaign stump speech or state of the union address, I always have preferred to see how they react under the worst of times. Speeches that are given during a crisis can reveal more about a politician than anything else.

Sometimes a politician has the ability to truly touch people. They don’t connect simply because there is a crisis happening, or because the words are touching. They say something heartfelt, and show a piece of their soul. There is something in a way that only someone who means it could say.

One of the most famous examples of this could be from President Ronald Reagan. On January 28th1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded less than two minutes after takeoff. Reagan cancelled the State of the Union Address that had been planned for that night, and instead addressed the nation from the oval office. He spoke from the heart in a comforting way, which helped begin the healing after what was at the time the nation's worst space disaster.

The second example of a president truly touching the public comes from President Bill Clinton, after the Oklahoma City bombing. After one of the most horrid and life-taking instances of domestic terrorism in the history of the United States, Clinton was able to take the stage without a hint of partisan rhetoric. Like Reagan, he spoke as a husband and father and the speech was one of the best received of his career.

On the flipside, sometimes a president can show a side that they may not wish to have revealed during a speech. On July 15th, 1979, with a deep recession and a humiliating Iranian hostage crisis weighing down the nations spirit, President Jimmy Carter went on television to try and soothe the nation's worries. When all was said and done, Carter ended up coming off irritated. Instead of soothing, he almost seemed to blame the citizens of America for the problems the country faced.

The final example of a president speaking during a time of crisis comes from our nations current president, Barack Obama. We all remember during the summer of 2010 as billions of gallons of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico after the Deep Water Horizon disaster. While the president is definitely a man who knows how to give a good speech, this time he fell flat.

During a time when people were watching some of the world's most beautiful coastline soak in oil, Obama spoke like a professor lecturing a class. His speech was peppered with anecdotes of how he’d spoken to residents on the coast, which failed to connect to the American people. A heavy dose of clean energy promotion was featured as well, which came across more opportunistic than heartfelt.

During the worst of times, it helps to be able to give the best of speeches. No one ever hopes for a disaster, but if one ever happens, people look to the president for comfort. A president who has the ability to deeply connect with the public by baring a piece of their own soul can reach across party lines, and into the hearts of every American.

While I obviously agree on policy with Ronald Reagan and not with Bill Clinton, I respect them both for being able to reach into their souls and connect with the American people the way that they did. Sometimes it’s not about left or right. Sometimes it’s about how much of a human one can be. 

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