The hope and change guy
Barack Obama still has operatic range and perfect pitch when it comes to speech making. It's only the ructions of the moment and the sense that we've heard the song before that diminishes the aria.
You heard our president talk about the stakes in this election. You heard Josh Shapiro and John Fetterrman talk about the stakes in this election, A fair economy that gives working people a fair shot. That's on the ballot. Fundamental rights are on the ballot, right? Yeah? Truth and facts and logic and reason and basic decency are on the ballot. Democracy itself is on the ballot. The stakes are high! Yes, the stakes are high.
I watched former President Obama’s speech at the Philadelphia rally for Fetterman and Shapiro almost knowing in advance that the speech-lover in me would be left breathless. It doesn’t matter that I’ve watched him hundreds of times, it doesn’t matter if there’s a general air of gloom and misery over American politics. I know that listening to him will at some time make my chest swell, that he’ll make me believe as I once believed, hope as I once hoped. He is after all, ‘the hope and change guy’.
But here's a little secret about Michelle. In our household, she can be a little bit of the glass-half-empty person sometimes. She can get a little discouraged about what she sees happening. And I'm the hope and change guy, so I'm usually a little more optimistic. And so if she's been watching the news or reading the papers and some crazy stuff is taking place, which is basically every 10 minutes, she can get a little down, and I'll say, 'Honey, everything's gonna be okay.' And I believe that. I believe things will be okay, but I also know that things won't be okay on their own.
What makes his speeches so compelling is not just the voice, the delivery, the trademark Obama ‘tumbling rhythm’, the long pauses, the gathering up of an audience in repeated phrases —‘you deserve, you deserve!’ —that ever increasing pace and volume. it’s also the structure and the things he has to say. He does folksy and family as well as anyone, like he’s your friend or a good natured dad from the local sports club. ‘She’s hot! She’s smart!’ he says of Michelle, and it never seems put on. But then he hits the beats that are the national conversation, fearmongering, erosion of reproductive rights, the 2020 election and the lie of Trumpism, truth, science, decency eroded as ‘wokeness’ which looms as a red-blue chasm across which a civil war could erupt. It’s an incredible conclusion:
Look, I know some of you probably feel like Michelle does sometimes, cuz I feel even me, the hope and change guy, I can get discouraged. Politics is so nasty and mean and it just seems like people will say anything and do anything. And it can be depressing sometimes.
And a lot of what we used to take for granted, things like respect and common decency and telling the truth and believing in science and the idea that every vote should count and that the person with the most votes win - all that somehow has become controversial.
But I was listening backstage to what Josh talked about, the experience of him running for governor and travelling around the state. And it reminded me of the experience that I had first as a state senator travelling around my district. And then as a US Senate candidate in Illinois. And then as a presidential candidate. It's such a privilege to be able to meet people from every walk of life. Folks who look different and live in different places. And it would always remind me, and what we have to remind ourselves, is that there's this common thread. There's this thing that binds us together as Americans. A belief that no matter who we are or where we come from, what we look like, who we love, what our last name is, how we worship a belief that all of us matter,
The kind of slash and burn politics that we're seeing right now. That doesn't have to be who we are. We can be better. And it has nothing to do, by the way, with political correctness or being too woke. It's about fundamental values that my grandparents from Kansas taught me. Values I grew up with. Values. you grew up with. Values we try to teach our kids. Values we learn in churches and mosques and synagogues and temples. Honesty, fairness, opportunity, hard work, values that Josh Shapiro and John' Fetterman stand for. Values that Joe Biden stands for. Values that we're enshrined in our founding document a few miles from here. A clarion call for freedom and equality that Philly's own Liberty Bell represents. That's what America stands for. That's who we are.
So if you're anxious and frustrated right now. Don't complain. Don't mope. Don't tune out. Get off your couch and do what?
Put down your phones and do what?
Vote for Josh Shapiro. Vote for John Fetterman. Vote for leaders who will fight for you and your families. Vote for folks who will fight for that big, inclusive, hopeful, forward looking America that we believe in. Who will work with Joe Biden to build a country that is more fair and more just and more equal and more free.
That's our task. Let's get to work.
I love you Philly.
Obama says he remains positive, perhaps more positive than me, and when I listen to him I feel positive too. The last six minutes of this speech, the stuff on democracy and the need for people to vote (‘What did I say about booing, no booing, just voting!’ It’s stunningly fluent, emotive, brilliant. For mine, it’s daylight to the next best orator of the twenty-first century.
The cross against him is always, ‘but did he do enough? Did he take the chances that were offered to him? Did he hope too much for change, instead of seizing it? Of course, because he’s such a great speaker, he deals with that in this speech. What the cost of a hostile Senate is. What it means to be unencumbered by the blind obstructionism of the modern Republican Party.
It’s a great speech. It’s like listening to Aretha Franklin sing. There’s nobody with more natural ability. There’s nobody with more speeches on Speakola.
The only problem is, for people on the other side of the Great Wall of Woke, they see it as a trick, some sleight of voice, golden words that fly into the ether like brilliant sparks, but don’t ultimately change the lives of ordinary people.
Maybe speeches never do? In which case, what am I doing with this site? Am I just collecting my favourite songs, the middle age extension of my teenage CD collection? Excuse the introspection. I just caught covid.
Listen to the soaring peroration to the Obama speech to understand what the artform can be. I’ll add a link at the bottom for those who wish to read the full transcript.
Thanks to the sixteen or so people who have taken up a paid subscription to Speakola. It is a way to keep this middle aged ‘record collection’ going, and to pay for some panadol in the coming days.
Join my ‘Good one, Wilson’ blog which is my personal writing project
Full transcript of speech is on Speakola website
On the other side of the fence, I did enjoy my chat with Gabriel Sterling about the divisiveness of American political debate, and his amazing speech calling out Trump.
I’ve made Speakola pretty much for free these last seven years. Becoming a paid member is a way of saying thanks, and joining what is a growing speech loving community.