What I’d Like to Hear President Obama Say

by Dave Schuler on January 28, 2014

Tonight a few hardy souls will watch the pomp and circumstance and listen to President Obama deliver his State of the Union message, the sixth of his presidency. I’ll probably be one of them. Frankly, I wish he’d just send Congress a written message.

Instead, he’ll deliver yet another lengthy Christmas list, full of proposals many of which will never see the light of day again let alone be enacted into law.

If the president absolutely, positively must deliver another SOTU message, I wish he’d rededicate himself to the objectives he laid out in his first presidential campaign and mean it. I have no illusions that will happen.

I have never found the president to be a good orator. I’ve always thought he was prolix. Having the floor and being a great orator are not synonymous.

In Mr. Obama’s defense, I’ve never found any of the presidents of the last 40 years to be good orators. Reagan was a good communicator—the best spokesman for his own admiministration and his agenda—but not an orator. Some have been barely passable. Most have been much worse than that, tedious being too kind a word. The last decent orator I can recall was probably Kennedy and how much of that was because he had a great speechwriter it’s hard to tell.

Please chime in in comments on what you think of President Obama as an orator (not what you think of him as president or his policies) or, possibly, what you’d like to hear in tonight’s State of the Union message.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Modulo Myself January 28, 2014 at 10:01 am

I voted for him, and I find his speaking to be kind of annoying. He sounds like I would sound if I imagined myself a politician. My first vote was for Clinton and I thought he was pretty bland as an orator. I’ve never understood his charm, though I’ve been told up close it’s really intense.

And despite voting for Nader, I always thought Al Gore was really entertaining and genuine if pompous, and the original George W Bush, not the one who emerged after 9/11 so heavily sedated, to be vaguely charming.

PD Shaw January 28, 2014 at 10:02 am

I think he has very good tonal qualities, though he could break cadences more to avoid the listener tuning out (and I don’t mean pause for applause). Primarily his SOTU speeches are too long, averaging more than an hour (second only to Clinton’s average of 1:14:51) That’s a long time to suffer through and raises the suspicion that one is not supposed to listen to it anyway, but comb it for talking points.

... January 28, 2014 at 11:02 am

What I’d Like to Hear Obama Say

Nothing at all. Send the damn thing as a document, the way it used to be done. And this goes for every last one of these speeches, regardless of party or President. I think I’ve heard one in the last two plus decades that was SORT OF worth hearing, Bush II’s speech in 2003, the one justifying kicking Saddam in the nads. And even that would have been better left as a document.

... January 28, 2014 at 11:11 am

The last decent orator I can recall was probably Kennedy and how much of that was because he had a great speechwriter it’s hard to tell.

I actually thought Reagan at his best was quite good. At least a couple of Kennedy’s speeches still sizzle all these decades later. “We choose to go to the moon… (interrupted by applause) we choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard….” just sends chills down my spine whenever I hear it. (No, the verbiage doesn’t look that good, but you have to hear it, especially in context of the rest of the speech, to really feel the force of it.) Kennedy had a great speech writer, but he should get credit both for hiring that speech writer and for delivery the speeches with gusto. And I’m no fan of JFK or the Kennedy’s more generally.

As for Obama… I’ve never understood all the fuss about his speechifyin’. He just isn’t that good. He has a real knack for speaking in meaningless generalities and then having the media proclaim his speeches awesome. But his big speech on race, for example, was just terrible.

Seriously, name the great moments from Obama’s speeches. “We are who we were waiting for.” Really?

... January 28, 2014 at 11:13 am

Link to the Kennedy speech I quoted.

And another quote from the same speech.

We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people. For space science, like nuclear science and all technology, has no conscience of its own. Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man, and only if the United States occupies a position of pre-eminence can we help decide whether this new ocean will be a sea of peace or a new terrifying theater of war. I do not say that we should or will go unprotected against the hostile misuse of space any more than we go unprotected against the hostile use of land or sea, but I do say that space can be explored and mastered without feeding the fires of war, without repeating the mistakes that man has made in extending his writ around this globe of ours.

Dave Schuler January 28, 2014 at 11:15 am

No, the verbiage doesn’t look that good, but you have to hear it

That’s as good a definition as any of how I’d characterize great oratory.

jan January 28, 2014 at 12:02 pm

I fondly recall Reagan for his gentle and somewhat self-deprecating humor, as well as inspiring words that inclusively tended to uplift rather than divide and aggravate groupings of people. The adulation towards him, though, was as much of a turn-off for me as it is of the present messiah-type worship over Obama. IMO, a president should be sincere, gracious, displaying ample humility and high regard towards the magnitude of his job and how it effects so many people. Also, being comfortable/confident in your own beliefs is quite different than having insulated arrogance, which is something I dislike about Obama’s speeches — particularly his body language.

However, I doubt we will even tune in to the SOTU address tonight. Much like Bush, at the end of his term, it has become excruciating to hear President Obama’s words. For one thing I don’t respect nor believe him anymore. At least, in his first few years, even though I disagreed with his policies, my respect for the office created at least a threshold of confidence that Obama’s competence would evolve, along with a resolve to put principles before personality. That didn’t happen. Consequently, his speeches seem more and more legacy-saving, rather than doing anything responsible or constructive for the people of this country.

As for what I would like a POTUS to say, at this juncture…. It would be encouraging to hear a commitment to roll up their proverbial sleeves, working hard in a sincere, bipartisan manner with Congress to achieve growth for this economy. Such a speech might profess that while ideology and transformation may have been the objectives of a first term, the focus in the second term will be on policies injecting real growth into the economy — loosening up reluctant investment monies through credible tax reform, promising less business regulation, instilling more confidence and stability into the entrepreneurial/worker community, etc.

Instead, we will be hearing about Obama’s powerful “pen and phone” strategy, and how he will use them to exercise even greater unilateral executive action to generate more EOs, in an attempt to realize his vision and have his way with this country. It will be a fist, not an hand extension to Congress, or anyone else objecting to his ideas, demonstrating to his social progressive base that he is a strong leader/proponent for their cause. This will probably reflect poorly on the debt ceiling negotiation, quickly coming up at the end of February. However, this may be what Obama wants — another dispute with congress — maybe even a near government shut-down — which he can then turn against the republicans as a political tool, denouncing them again for their ‘obstructive behavior’ before the 2014 midterms. After all, it’s all about being in a 24/7 campaign mode for this man, creating political skirmishes and party points — none of which have a positive effect or anything to do with leading or softening the rifts that have only intensified under his rule.

Cstanley January 28, 2014 at 4:51 pm

I find it hard to separate the policies from the oratory. I view everything he does as self-interested, partisan, and politically motivated.

I think I’m generally capable enough of objectivity, so the fact that I can’t get past that with Obama seems significant, in that he doesn’t convince me that he genuinely means any of the parts of his speeches with which I might have common ground.

michael reynolds January 28, 2014 at 9:30 pm

Obama’s not a great orator. He’s a competent orator and a pretty good communicator.

People who don’t understand the importance of the SOTU don’t understand politics.

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