oratory was supposed to be obsolete in the TV age. But it has played a key part in barack obama's rise. His speeches during the campaign have been justly acclaimed, and it was a speech that shot him to national prominence in the first place. His speech to the Ebeneezer Church in South Carolina is a good example of his ability to combine argument, rhetorical sinew, and uplift.
it must be a while since oratory has played a key part in an american presidential campaign. We have seen rabble-rousers (Dean), feel-your-painers (Bill Clinton), and folksy charmers (Reagan). But who, since Kennedy, has been able to make speeches that appeal powerfully to head and heart?
as for british political campaigns - well, it has played even less part, though Blair wasn't too shabby behind the podium. Here is a list of great british speeches put together by nick anstead, whose excellent blog i hadn't come across before. It's a pretty good list. I would add Neil Kinnock's speech to the Labour Party conference in 1985, confronting the Militants.
- Calgacus / Tacitus, speech to the Britons (85 AD).
- Winston Churchill, “We will fight them on the beaches…” (1940).
- Thomas Rainsborough, address to the Putney debates (1647).
- Queen Elizabeth I, “Heart and stomach of a king…” (1588)
- William Gladstone, first home rule bill (1886).
- David Lloyd-George, proposing the people’s budget (1909).
- Oliver Cromwell, “for godsake go…” (1653).
- Geoffrey Howe, savaged by a dead sheep (1990).
- Earl Spencer, funeral oration for Princess Diana (1997).
- Harold MacMillan, “wind of change…” (1960).