Like most Americans, I have been challenged recently to make sense of a great number of speeches given by politicians, political appointees, and media pundits. We are in an era in which many of our community leaders desire to rewrite or redefine history, while selling us philosophies and theories instead of proven solutions to our pressing problems. As an English major and a student of public speaking, I have been shocked by how poorly our greatest leaders have used the opportunities they have had to speak to the nation.
This week there were two important speeches that were distinct opposites. The first was President Obama’s economic speech on Tuesday and the second was Rush Limbaugh’s Saturday speech at the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC). These two speeches seemed to be polar opposites. The President should get an A+ on style, but a C- on substance. While Rush Limbaugh followed a brash politically incorrect approach to his speech, it should be graded a C- on style but an A+ on substance.
The president’s financial message finally struck a nerve with average Americans listening from their living rooms. It seemed to me that “President Barack was Back!” As he addressed the Congress and Senate, he showed his ability to move an audience, showcase outstanding Americans, and seemingly speak from his heart to the issues of the day.
After the speech, the polls showed that it was a hit in terms of style, force, and building confidence. Anthony Salvanto, who directs surveys for CBS, spoke about the president’s address: “Before the speech, 71 percent said they were optimistic about the next four years with Barack Obama as president, and that went up to 80 percent after they tuned into the speech.” Unfortunately for the nation, business leaders and the financial markets did not grade the president on style; they looked for content and fiscal responsibility that could be “sold” to business leaders around the world. In the absence of an encouraging fiscal blueprint from the president and his economic advisors, the stock market and business leaders continued to make plans to weather the biggest recession the nation has seen in over 60 years.
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.