I’ve always been a sucker for a good speech, ever since I heard JFK’s inaugural address as a fourth grader. “Ask not what your country can do for you, etc.” really stuck in my young impressionable mind and turned me into a politics junkie.
I listened to many memorable speeches as the sixties wore on. Jack, Bobby and Martin Luther King always had the best material, and it helped that they were skilled orators. As they all died young, those speeches are their legacy and their words are as revered as the gospel to this day. They never had to face the ravenous press later in their careers and utter less inspiring lines like “I am not a crook.”
As the years passed, there were still some gems to be found. Jimmy Carter’s Law Day speech inspired me to vote again after skipping the Nixon/McGovern contest. If there were any memorable speeches during the ’72 campaign, they are mostly filed in the trashcan of history.
But Jimmy looked like a toothy tongue-tied dwarf next to Ronald Reagan. The Gipper had the best writers in the business, and he had been fondling cameras for forty years. His TV address on the plight of Solidarity at the hands of the brutish Russians moved me to put a candle in my bedroom window. Thankfully, the curtains didn’t catch on fire.
The next speech that caught my attention was in 1984, during the Democratic convention in San Francisco. I was drawing cartoons for The Chron at our artists’ headquarters upstairs at the O’Farrell Theatre. The Mitchell Brothers had set up banks of televisions so we could see the coverage from every network. The room was full of pimps, prostitutes and other political types, but we all stopped what we were doing when Mario Cuomo gave the keynote address.
Cuomo was animated and articulate, and hammered on the themes of fairness and compassion. Everyone agreed that his star was on the rise. Unfortunately, he peaked too soon and eventually got fired from his job as Governor of New York. Today, I couldn’t give you one quote from that speech.
Which brings us to the present, and Barack Obama’s climactic final address to the troops as they trudge home to fight the good fight. It was mostly rehashed promises from other speeches, but brilliantly executed. If there was any truth in it, it was his assertion that we are the change. If we keep going the way we are, the future will be grim indeed. If we can’t find common ground, it will erode from under all of us, Republican, Democrat, and Middle Earthers like me.
Due to the last minute change of venue, there was no traditional balloon drop. After the President’s standing ovation, the room fell silent and Cardinal Dolan came on to remind everyone that abortion and homosexuals are uncool in the eyes of the Almighty. No wonder they left God off the platform.