Do Great Orators Make Good Presidents?

With an Obama presidency looking inevitable, it’s time to turn our attention to the critical question: What will an Obama presidency mean for America and the world?

I’ll be providing meatier pieces in the future, but for now, here’s an appetizer:

One of Obama’s perceived strengths as a candidate is his gift for oratory. But how will this talent translate to the tasks of governing?

His supporters claim that he’ll be able to use his golden tongue to rally the nation.

His detractors say that his words have raised unrealistically high expectations, and that real change comes from hard, gritty, plainspoken work.

Which view is true? Consider this…which American presidents were known as great orators who gave immortal speeches?

I thought about it, and concluded that I can name only five: Reagan, Kennedy, Roosevelt, Roosevelt, and Lincoln.*

* Bill Clinton is excluded because he never gave a defining speech that will go down in history. Thomas Jefferson is excluded because his reputation for eloquence comes from his writing, rather than his speeches.

Now, correlation is not causation, but if I were running for president, I’d certainly be happy with being included in that company. Reagan and Lincoln were elected twice; FDR won four presidential elections. And Teddy Roosevelt and JFK were hugely popular.

History considers Lincoln and the Roosevelts three of our greatest presidents, and I believe that Reagan will join their ranks in time, while JFK will always be the James Dean of presidents.

In this regard at least, chalk me up as cautiously optimistic.

I’ll leave you with Reagan’s famous speech at the Berlin Wall, which helped drive the end of the Cold War:

6 thoughts on “Do Great Orators Make Good Presidents?

  1. Anonymous

    The first Roosevelt isn’t generally considered one of the great president’s- his face being carved on Mt. Rushmore notwishstanding.

  2. Be careful–my friend TK will kill you if he finds you.

  3. Reagan’s speech at the Berlin Wall stemmed from his courage to stand up to the “evil empire” when his administration all were firmly against any provocation. The question is not whether Obama is a great orator. Rather, the question is whether Obama will have the courage to stand up to today’s “axis of evil.”

  4. Will Barack make a good President? I believe the answer is “Yes” for many reasons including his ‘golden tongue.’

    I think one of the most compelling reasons is that he has SO MUCH to prove. He has much less experience than McCain, and even more importantly, he will be the first African American president. He has to prove that electing an African American president is not a mistake.

    I feel that when a person has something to prove, he will rise up to the challenge and go above and beyond what is expected of him. Plus, Barack will have valiantly EARNED the presidency over tough competitors – Hilary.

    I believe he will step up and do great things.


  5. Addie,

    Great point about the courage to stand up to America’s enemies. Clearly the list of presidents I provided included men of great moral courage.

    Reagan stood up to the evil empire. Kennedy faced down Khruschev during the Cuban Missile Crisis. FDR tackled Hitler, TR wielded a big stick, and Lincoln went to war to preserve the Union.

    Does Obama have the courage to do what needs to be done? And what the heck can we agree needs to be done?

  6. Former Independent

    I’d change the title to say “do good orators make good presidents?” My simple answer would be yes. Great orators on the other hand have the ability to not only inspire but to succeed in tough, game changing negotiations.

    I’ve had friends that have said, Obama just a good speaker…Hello? To me this proves he’s smart, damn smart…first black leader ever of the Harvard law review.

    Recent polls around the world cite his wild popularity, as his speeches have inspired countless fans – Germany 200k. My feeling is the world misses our moral superpower status and is yearning for a US president they to can believe in.

    What shall determine him to be a Great president however is yet to be tested. How tough he negotiates (or bombs) the Iranians may be his first foreign policy test and that may be very soon.

    It struck me as I read through the blog, how foolish this nation might be, if we ever allow the words President Palin to be uttered. Given the great men and speeches you’ve cited, it has to shed light on the sheer irresponsibility of her even being on the ticket.

    Former Independent

    P.S and we all know she’s aggressive enough to bang McCain over and over until he has a heart attack. Scary

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