Monday, September 22, 2008

Great Speeches in History

Last week I found a great podcast called Great Speeches in History. Obviously, what they are is self-explanatory. I downloaded a few for the trip to NY, listening to them has caused me to reflect. I got through Ronald Reagan's "Tear Down this Wall", Winston Churchill's First Speech as Prime Minister, Malcolm X's "The Ballot or the Bullet" and JFK's democratic nomination speech. I had heard parts of all these before, but it was so interesting to hear them all in their entirety. All day I have been thinking about two things: 1. Why is it that all of these are more than 20 years old? and 2. What would be something could cause such a speech to happen today? As to the first question, I could not think of an answer, but I have spent a lot of time thinking about the second question and have come up with an answer of my own that I would like to share.

One of the main themes of all the speeches was the unification of people for the greater good. I loved how Malcolm X talked about how we let religion seep into too many conversations/debates, when really there are many things that effect our daily lives no matter what religion we are. He also acknowledged his enemies and wasn't afraid to confront their opposing views without attacking them. Ronald Reagan gave a stirring speech to the people of Berlin, pointing out that the very people protesting his presence there would not be able to protest if they got their way. He never spoke bad about the communist people, just about the regime that forced them to live that different lifestyle. Even though I have very little respect and no admiration for JFK, his acceptance speech had nothing of the jabs and twisting of words that accompanies political speeches today.

Barack Obama has been hailed by many as a great orator, which he very much is. Malcolm X was not very eloquent, stumbling over his words and repeating simple phrases over and over, but he spoke from his heart. There is a simple way to explain why these great speeches have survived the test of time, compared to the rhetoric filled "word vomit" we hear all to often; these men were not presenting ideas, but ideals. They all understood we live in a world where there will always be hate and discord, but their understanding of opposition in all things allowed them to present the other side of hate and discord. Malcolm X spoke about building up the economy of black communities, Reagan spoke about reuniting a continent, Churchill expressed his true faith that good would overcome evil and JFK absorbed the religious bigotry to unite his party. None of them said things like, "living in a perfect world" or "a world without hate." They all expressed well thought out plans and desires to make the world better. I was so impressed by some of the things Malcolm X said about differences between religion. He is so right, many times we allow differences in religion cloud the similarities that exist between two people.

After putting these thoughts together, I tried to answer my second question from above; What would be something could cause such a speech to happen today? What Malcolm X spoke about regarding religion caused me to make a comparison to how political party affiliation effects relationships and conversations with those around us, not to mention the decisions made by our elected officials. Regardless of party affiliation, I believe it is easy to see that the political system is not what our fore-fathers intended it to be. It is time to overlook our differences on abortion laws and gay marriage and be united to change a tired system.

It was announced last week that Obama spent over $60 million in August, while John McCain spent over $40 million. That is $100 million spent in one month, while the two argue over who has the best plan to fix the economy. Maybe by allowing that $100 million dollars to go back into the communities it came from? Campaign reform has the possibility to evoke the same lasting speeches as generations before us. It is something anybody can have a basic understanding of. How hard must it be for a father who works 60 hours a week to make ends meet see a millionaire presidential candidate getting off a private jet paid for not out of his own pocket, but by someone who could have used that $2500 to buy something in his community? According to, a site that tracks where campaign donations come from and how they are spent, the two main candidates have already raised a combined $700 million dollars! Combine that with the $600 million raised by candidates who have already dropped out of the race and that makes $1.3 billion used to campaign for the office of President. Where does all that money go? TV ads, charter planes, meals, campaign buses, salaries, etc. There has to be a better way and that is something everyone, regardless of race, religion, party, can agree on.

At dinner a few weeks ago, we talked about the appeal of a candidate that would not respond to each little jabs and planted rumor from opponents. Take that a few steps further and imagine a candidate who refused to charter a plane to travel from each "swing state", which has to include enough room for all the journalists that track his every move. Or a candidate who doesn't run inflammatory ads during the other party's convention. Instead of traveling with dozens of "advisers", he convinces an airline executive to donate a few seats on a commercial flight instead of money to the campaign. If a candidate could prove to the public they were that committed to improving the economy, then I could start to believe that they truly care about all the people they shake hands with. These ideas should not make people laugh, but should reflect how a campaign works.

Wouldn't it be great to turn on the TV tonight and witness a world changing speech? I am 22 years old and have not experienced that, but I hope my life doesn't pass without that experience. With the technical resources we have at our disposal, Malcolm X wouldn't have to speak to a few thousand people in a Detroit church. It could be broadcast around the country and the world. I hope one day we can experience that and be united in ideals, not broken apart by the empty promises that seem to dominate the nightly news.


Alec and Tiffany said...

Great post. I like the part about the speeches being not about "ideas, but ideals." Good stuff. We are in an economic crisis and we spend 1.3 billion on campaigning? That 1.3 billion could feed a lot of hungry stomachs of people who have recently been laid off. Think about that one, Bengals.


Richard said...

Inspiring Dixon. I'm with you. I know everyone thinks that I'm joking about the Idealist Party of Vronick on Facebook, and I kind of am. But(!), I see these very things that you are talking about and reflect upon them often. Let me widen your view a bit though. The ENTIRE WORLD has fallen into this slump. We CAN and WILL change things.