Amid the analysis of last week's election, Marge Baker (in the Huffington Post) reviewed Power in Words: The Stories Behind Barack Obama's Speeches, From the State House to the White House, by Mary Frances Berry and Josh Gottheimer.
Focusing on 18 pivotal speeches from the campaign -- from then-Illinois State Senator Barack Obama's October 2002 speech against the Iraq war resolution to his November 2008 election night victory speech -- Berry and Gottheimer put each speech in the context of Obama's ultimate journey toward the presidency, while also revealing details about the behind-the-scenes thought and preparation that went into each.
Along the way the authors emphasize two fundamental -- and ultimately interconnected -- values that have motivated Obama throughout his public career and that we have seen at play during his first term as president.
The first is his abiding belief that governing is most effective when we transcend the discord and partisanship of "politics as usual" to reach a bipartisan unity of purpose and new way of approaching our nation's challenges. The second is his fundamental belief in the power of government to help us solve problems and meet challenges that we cannot deal with on our own.
Although, as the authors note, this view of government takes its most expansive form in Obama's "The American Promise" speech accepting the Democratic nomination for president in Denver in August, 2008, you can see the roots of his thinking all the way back to the Knox College commencement address he delivered in June 2005, barely six months after being sworn in as the junior senator from Illinois:
How does America find our way in this new, global economy? What will our place in history be?
Baker goes on to look at how the tension between the parties since the election has hampered Obama's vision of America's place int he world.
Once President, though, he was confronted by a quartet of challenges: (1) a Republican party that decided the path to political victory was to double down on partisanship, (2) a mobilized and well-funded Tea Party chorus preaching limited government (except when it comes to one's own government benefits), (3) the Fox-Beck-Limbaugh echo chamber that not only preached limited government, but labeled government acting to promote the general welfare as un-American, and (4) an effective corporate lobby that was able to turn mainstream, private-sector oriented health insurance reform into government sponsored death panels.
Faced with this barrage, President Obama and his allies have not been able to sell the American people on the bedrock principle that government is a force for good in our country.
That sale can be made.
In Power in Words, Berry and Gottheimer add a rich introduction for each speech that includes political analysis, provides insight and historical context, and features commentary straight from the speechwriters themselves—including Jon Favreau, Obama's chief speechwriter, and several other Obama campaign writers—delivering the behind-the-scenes account of Obama's rhetorical legacy.
Follow the jump for videos of some of the speeches and an excerpt from Power in Words.
Speech against the Iraq War Resolution: October 2, 2002
Very little film of the original speech exists, so supporters recreated it for the campaign website.
"A More Perfect Union": March 28, 2008.
“The American Promise”: Democratic National Convention: August 28, 2008
Read the introduction to Power in Words below or at Scribd: