Thursday, January 13, 2011

Good Speech / Bad Speech

I didn't care much for Obama's "memorial" speech last night. I had originally written something that went into details, but I'm trashing that and just providing a table and some minimal commentary. See how you feel Obama compares to a few other American Presidents:

President Occasion /
Video Link
Word Count /
Transcript Link
Ronald Reagan Challenger Disaster 652 4m10s
George W. Bush Columbia Disaster 375 3m20s
George W. Bush 9 / 11 Attacks 599 4m20s
Bill Clinton Oklahoma City Bombing 916 9m10s
Barack Obama Tucson Shooting 2762 33m30s

(Durations are approximate, based upon youtube videos of the speeches in question. Word counts were done with wc and thus may be slightly off due to punctuation).

Note that Obama's speech used more that 4x the words that Ronald Reagan used when he spoke to the nation about the Challenger disaster. More than 4x the words that George W. Bush used when he addressed the country on 9/11/2001. More than 3x the words (and time) that Bill Clinton used in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing.

In short, Obama seems incapable of using one word when he can use four.

When the President of the United States addresses the nation in the wake of a tragedy is when the President is really working hard for his paycheck. Failure is not an option: his words must be a comfort to those who grieve; they must work to heal those who are wounded; they must reassure the country that despite this awful event, we will not give up; they must promise justice if appropriate. The President's speech must be heroic, memorable, timeless, even poetic, and sombre in the gravity of the event.

Ultimately, the question of whether or not Obama's speech achieved those objectives is a matter of opinion. My opinion is no, it did not.

If you've got the time, I'd seriously urge you to watch the videos of the Reagan and Bush speeches. Reagan and GWB are both in the Top 5 on my List of Least-Favorite Presidents, but I have to give them credit: when their country needed them, they delivered, speech-wise.

(GWB's Columbia speech is surprising -- he uses few words, but the man is obviously affected by the tragedy. I don't think he's good enough of an actor to fake it).

Obama's not likely to start attending Toastmasters to bone up on his speaking skills just because of me. But I really wish he would. I'd like to be proud of the President's statesmanship. I do not know it for a fact but I suspect that GWB got some professional speech-coaching, and while it didn't make him less of a jerk, it seemed like over time his skill at addressing the nation visibly improved.

Maybe the saddest thing about Obama's speaking skills is that he doesn't realize he has a problem.

All: We are the mediocre presidents.
You won't find our faces on dollars or on cents!
There's Taylor, there's Tyler,
There's Fillmore and there's Hayes.
There's William Henry Harrison,
Harrison: I died in thirty days!
All: We... are... the...
Adequate, forgettable,
Occasionally regrettable
Caretaker presidents of the U-S-A!

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