Obama: “A More Perfect Union”
When Barack Obama approached the podium at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia on March 18, 2008, his mission was to beat back one of the most daunting setbacks of his presidential campaigns. The man who sought to unite America was facing questions about his relationship with Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., the pastor at Obama’s church. Snippets from some of Wright’s sermons were circulating online and on the news, and critics charged they were unpatriotic and inflammatory. Obama’s poll numbers were dropping as questions mounted and his image suffered. Which is why it was so surprising, courageous, and refreshing to hear Obama spend his 37 minute speech, “A More Perfect Union,” candidly discussing his relationship with Reverend Wright and the state of race relations in America instead of throwing his friend under the bus.
Obama was eloquent but also fearless, giving context and nuance in his examination of racial resentment, and even referencing the unconscious prejudices of his white grandmother. Accolades soon poured forth. “I don’t recall another speech about race with as little pandering or posturing or shying from awkward points, and as much honest attempt to explain and connect, as this one,” wrote James Fallows on his blog for The Atlantic. In the New York Times Nicholas D. Kristof called the speech “not a sound bite, but a symphony.” “No other presidential candidate in the last forty years has managed to speak so much truth so eloquently at such a crucial juncture in his campaign as Barack Obama did today,” wrote Charles Kaiser in Radar. And it wasn’t just the pundits who appreciated the address. Poll numbers showed a majority of those who’d heard or read about it approved, and Obama’s national poll numbers rebounded soon after.
McCain: 1996 Republican National Convention
McCain’s nomination speech in San Diego made a strong impression on many viewers, including the presidential nominee: Tears rolled down Bob Dole’s cheeks as McCain spoke. Noting their shared military record, McCain spoke of the “virtues of the quiet hero” who “answers without reservation, not for fame or reward, but for love.” David S.Broder wrote in the Washington Post that the speech was “full of simple words, perfectly chosen and with not a syllable to spare, [making] a far better case for electing Bob Dole than the prolix and awkward speech he delivered himself.” After the convention, Newsday noted the “strong, soothing voice of the retired four-star general” and suggested he would make a good alternative to Pat Buchanan. In the New York Times, Frank Rich said that the Arizona senator was the exception at a convention where “nearly every event and personality was pseudo.” McCain didn’t win the nomination for vice-president in 1998. But considering how Dole did in the general election, it was probably for the best.