06 November 2008

Best campaign speeches of 2008

While it's now my job to focus on social media, particularly as it pertains to issues-based discussions, I'm still fascinated with the art of political oratory and speeches in general. We saw thousands of stump speeches from more than a dozen candidates over the past two years, but only a handful provided those signature moments that will stand the test of time. Here's my short list of the best political rhetoric - in the classic and not pejorative sense - of this campaign.

Senator Clinton, June 7, 2008: "Although we weren't able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you it's got about 18 million cracks in it and the light is shining through like never before."

Near the end of her campaign, Senator really hit her stride on the stump. The Democratic primary itself became a narrative about breaking barriers, and while Senator Clinton was ultimately unsuccessful in reaching her goal, she embraced the rhetoric of progress and inspired a new generation of girls - and, hopefully, boys.

Governor Romney November 6, 2007: "Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone."

Governor Romney to me represents the breaking of barriers on the other side of the aisle - and while his speech wasn't without controversy (he didn't literally see his father "march with Dr. King") it still represented a courageous stand against some of the more dogmatic voices in his own party.

Governor Palin, September 3, 2008: "Here's a little news flash for all those reporters and commentators: I'm not going to Washington to seek their good opinion. I'm going to Washington to serve the people of this country. Americans expect us to go to Washington for the right reasons, and not just to mingle with the right people."

While some have said she ended up being a drag on the Republican ticket, there can be no doubt that Governor Sarah Palin immediately provided enthusiasm and electrified a conservative base that up to that point had been lethargic. Her acceptance speech at the RNC, a folksy but spirited attack on the Democratic ticket and vigorous endorsement of Senator McCain, to me represents the high point of the Republican campaign.

Senator Obama March 18, 2008: "I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can disown my white grandmother — a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed her by on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe."

While his convention speech, his New Hampshire primary concession speech, and his victory speech all had the rhetorical flourishes that are now embedded in pop culture, I think history will recall the speech he gave in Philadelphia on race issues as the most important. Politically it stemmed a growing tide of criticism over his association with Reverend Wright, but to me it represents the most courageous and confident attempt ever made by a political figure to address the issue. It was devoid of the focus-group-driven pablum and demonstrated to the country that this was one candidate who wanted to address serious issues like an adult.

John McCain, November 4, 2008: "I would not be an American worthy of the name, should I regret a fate that has allowed me the extraordinary privilege of serving this country for a half a century. Today, I was a candidate for the highest office in the country I love so much. And tonight, I remain her servant."

Senator McCain's concession speech was distinctive for its graciousness. Most speeches of this kind often feature calls to unity and this address is what I think most McCain supporters might point to in the weeks ahead as a demonstration of the man's honor and grace.

Barack Obama, November 4, 2008: "Yes We Can."

Yes, it repeats much of the rhetoric from other stump speeches, but I think you have to include this one. The rhetorical device of following the life of a 106-year-old voter and asking what changes will come next was extraordinarily powerful.

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