A Memorable Pair Of Speeches
Political speeches come in various forms: after-dinner speeches, when the two scoops rice weigh heavily on the audience; the campaign rally speech to send the faithful out to ring doorbells; and the serious policy speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, the NAACP convention or the AFLCIO conclave to make the candidate sound serious, thoughtful and sympathetic.
Then there are inaugurals and state-of-the-something-or-other, given by those who kept audiences awake and the faithful enthusiastic, delivered and with probity, profundity and empathy.
In short, only the winners give them.
We got one of each last week: President Barack Obama’s second inaugural address and Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s third state-of-the-state address.
Both men did themselves proud.
Four years ago, Obama electrified Democratic audiences across the country with his rhetoric. Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden regularly bested him in debates, but he won the multitudes with his rhetoric. It didn’t much matter what he said on inauguration day 2009; historic occasions seldom result in great oratory, and swearing in the first African-American as president of the United States made history. No one will remember Obama’s first inaugural speech.
But on his Martin Luther King Day inauguration, Obama made a memorable speech. He followed King’s dictum, that “the arc of history bends at the elbow of justice.”
Obama, whose person speaks of equality, extended it to all Americans: “We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls (the feminist movement) and Selma (the modern civil rights movement) and Stonewall (the gay liberation movement); just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on earth.”
Obama vowed to “respond to the threat of climate change,” not deny “the overwhelming judgment of science” and to show “the courage to try and resolve our differences peacefully,” that “enduring security and peace do not require perpetual war.” And he paraphrased King’s “I have a dream” speech with “Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for and cherished and always safe from harm.”
Let it be said, on the basis of his oratory, after four years of brutal opposition from congressional Republicans, Obama may have his mojo back.
State-of-the-states and state-of-the unions are different oratorical breeds. They don’t soar, they list – namely, what an administration has accomplished and what it intends to do. So Abercrombie reported last Tuesday that his administration tightened the state’s fiscal belt and brought Hawaii to budgetary health.
Then he listed new programs to foster investments in the state economy, support innovative new businesses and local agriculture, reduce energy costs through the use of liquefied natural gas, make permanent the state’s Kupuna Care program, and recapitalize the previously raided Hurricane and Rainy Day funds.
Abercrombie saved the most important for last: his proposal to commit $32.5 million to establishing early childhood education for all Hawaii children, extending to Hawaii’s keiki the assurance that they are, in Obama’s words, all “cared for and cherished.”