Monday, October 27, 2008

Do Great Orators Make Good Presidents?

With an Obama presidency looking inevitable, it's time to turn our attention to the critical question: What will an Obama presidency mean for America and the world?

I'll be providing meatier pieces in the future, but for now, here's an appetizer:

One of Obama's perceived strengths as a candidate is his gift for oratory. But how will this talent translate to the tasks of governing?

His supporters claim that he'll be able to use his golden tongue to rally the nation.

His detractors say that his words have raised unrealistically high expectations, and that real change comes from hard, gritty, plainspoken work.

Which view is true? Consider this...which American presidents were known as great orators who gave immortal speeches?

I thought about it, and concluded that I can name only five: Reagan, Kennedy, Roosevelt, Roosevelt, and Lincoln.*

* Bill Clinton is excluded because he never gave a defining speech that will go down in history. Thomas Jefferson is excluded because his reputation for eloquence comes from his writing, rather than his speeches.

Now, correlation is not causation, but if I were running for president, I'd certainly be happy with being included in that company. Reagan and Lincoln were elected twice; FDR won four presidential elections. And Teddy Roosevelt and JFK were hugely popular.

History considers Lincoln and the Roosevelts three of our greatest presidents, and I believe that Reagan will join their ranks in time, while JFK will always be the James Dean of presidents.

In this regard at least, chalk me up as cautiously optimistic.

I'll leave you with Reagan's famous speech at the Berlin Wall, which helped drive the end of the Cold War: