Editorial

Topical Commentary With Odongo Odoyo

Topical Commentary

With Odongo Odoyo

Odongo Odoyo

I was going through some audios depicting speeches of once famous politicians and elites in the world. They are many among them Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Patrick Lumumba Otieno (PLO) and Barrack Obama that came into my mind immediately. I decided to settle today on Obama to recap some of his speeches after going through the narration by Greg Jaffe, a national reporter with The Washington Post and who spent more than a decade covering the military. He’s the co-author of “The Fourth Star: Four Generals and the Epic Struggle for the Future of the United States Army.”Few political careers and presidencies have been more defined by speeches than Barack Obama’s. His 2004 speech at the Democratic National Convention vaulted him into the country’s consciousness. His 2008 speech on race saved his faltering presidential campaign. As president, Obama’s biggest and most consequential moments — his unfulfilled outreach to the Muslim world in Cairo, his Nobel Peace Prize address on the grim necessity of war in Oslo and his eulogy for nine slain parishioners in Charleston, S.C. — often have been speeches.

Obama’s best oratory is beautifully written, meticulously crafted and theatrically delivered. It is a record of our fears, flaws, shortcomings and accomplishments. “I don’t know of any president who has put that kind of work into his speeches,” says Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian. “He organizes his thinking by putting pencil to pad.”

In a few days, Obama will deliver one of his last big speeches as president. In a bit of clever stagecraft, he is scheduled to speak at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on the 12th anniversary of his electric 2004 convention speech. The moment raises a question that cuts to the heart of Obama’s presidential legacy and our polarized politics

Which Obama address will still sound wise and inspiring when our bitter, partisan disputes have faded from memory?

In just 272 words, Abraham Lincoln’s remarks at Gettysburg redefined the purpose of the country. John F. Kennedy will forever be remembered for his inaugural address: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” His challenge is all the more poignant because of his sacrifice. Ronald Reagan seemed to be bending the arc of history when he stood at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate and spoke directly to the Soviet leader: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”So which Obama speech, if any, will schoolchildren read decades from now? To answer the question, I quizzed Republicans, Democrats, historians, and some of the president’s longest-serving and most loyal aides. I pressed for clues on the president’s preferences. Which speech would Obama pick? Could that be the one? Peering into the future is an impossible task, and there was more argument than consensus among those I spoke with. But the conversations led me inexorably to one speech. First, let’s review the contenders:

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