Okay, I’m going to go ahead and be the asshole who says it: It wasn’t a great speech. I know you get extra credit for the solemnity of the occasion — even if the audience are cheering and whistling like they’re at a pep rally — but still. I’m not saying it was a horrible speech, but it was a speech that any competent member of the clergy could have given. Jesse Jackson could give a better speech than that with his jaw wired shut.
What’s far worse than the unmerited rave reviews for this speech, though, is the reason they’re calling it a great speech: the idea that Ronald Reagan should be the standard by which oratory is measured.
Listen: Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was a great speech. Queen Elizabeth I’s speech to the troops at Tilbury was a great speech. Winston Churchill and Martin Luther King both gave one great speech after another. Reagan was not a great speaker, or a great president, either. He just had the gift of being likeable. Bill Clinton had it, too. Pope John Paul II had it. They could do or say any horrible thing, and people would love them for it. That’s a lucky quality for a politician to have, but it’s not a substitute for real greatness. It’s not what Obama should aspire to.